One distinguishing feature of clitellate annelids is the presence of specialized segments comprising the clitellum, whose primary function is to secrete a cocoon. Using histological analyses, we have documented cell types (I-V) and cellular processes associated with cocoon secretion in the aquatic leech, Theromyzon tessulatum. Our data indicate that the bulk of the cocoon's biomass arises from precursor cells of a single type that hypertrophy and proliferate ∼1 week prior to egg laying, and then differentiate into either of two cell types (i.e., Type II or Type III) depending on their position within the clitellum. Type II cells are concentrated along the lateral edges and venter of the clitellum and secrete alcian blue-staining granules that form opercula (i.e., glue-like material that seals both cocoon ends), while Type III cells populate the dorsal midline and secrete azocarmine-staining granules that build the cocoon wall. Both cell types occupy spaces between deep muscle layers and extend long-neck tubules to the surface epithelium as they fill with granules a few days prior to egg laying. Other cell types appear to make minor contributions to the cocoon (e.g., Type I, Type IV) or have supporting or signaling roles (e.g., Type V). Our observations suggest that post-translational modification (i.e., glycosylation) of the same core protein(s) distinguishes the granules of Type II/III cells, and that the default state of the Type II/III precursor may be evolutionarily linked to secretory cells in basal polychaetes. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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