Hagfishes use their defensive slime to ward off gill-breathing predators. Slime gland refilling is a surprisingly slow process, and previous research has shown that the composition of the slime exudate changes significantly during refilling, which likely has consequences for the functionality of the slime. This study set out to expand our understanding of slime gland refilling by examining the cellular processes involved in refilling of the glands, as well as determining where in the gland the main slime cells, the gland thread cells and gland mucous cells, arise. Slime glands were electro-stimulated to exhaust their slime stores, left to refill for set periods of time, and harvested for histological and immunohistochemical examination. Whole slime glands, gland thread cell morphometrics and slime cell proportions were examined over the refilling cycle. Slime glands decreased significantly in size after exhaustion, but steadily increased in size over refilling. Gland thread cells were the limiting factor in slime gland refilling, taking longer to replenish and mature than gland mucous cells. Newly produced gland thread cells underwent most of their growth near the edge of the gland, and larger cells were found farthest from the edge of the gland. Immunohistochemical analysis also revealed proliferating cells only within the epithelial lining of the slime gland, suggesting that new slime cells originate from undifferentiated cells lining the gland. Our results provide an in-depth look at the cellular dynamics of slime gland refilling in Pacific hagfish, and provide a model for how slime glands refill at the cellular level.
Sarah Schorno, Todd E. Gillis, and Douglas S. Fudge