Publications and Research

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

October 2008

Abstract

The horseshoe crab has the best-characterized immune system of any long-lived invertebrate. The study of immunity in horseshoe crabs has been facilitated by the ease in collecting large volumes of blood and from the simplicity of the blood. Horseshoe crabs show only a single cell type in the general circulation, the granular amebocyte. The plasma has the salt content of sea water and only three abundant proteins, hemocyanin, the respiratory protein, the C-reactive proteins, which function in the cytolytic destruction of foreign cells, including bacterial cells, and α2-macroglobulin, which inhibits the proteases of invading pathogens. Blood is collected by direct cardiac puncture under conditions that minimize contamination by lipopolysaccharide (a.k.a., endotoxin, LPS), a product of the Gram-negative bacteria. A large animal can yield 200 - 400 mL of blood. For the study of the plasma, blood cells are immediately removed from the plasma by centrifugation and the plasma can then be fractionated into its constituent proteins. The blood cells are conveniently studied microscopically by collecting small volumes of blood into LPS-free isotonic saline (0.5 M NaCl) under conditions that permit direct microscopic examination by placing one of more LPS-free coverglasses on the culture dish surface, then mounting those coverglasses in simple observation chambers following cell attachment. A second preparation for direct observation is to collect 3 - 5 mL of blood in a LPS-free embryo dish and then explanting fragments of aggregated amebocytes to a chamber that sandwiches the tissue between a slide and a coverglass. In this preparation, the motile amebocytes migrate onto the coverglass surface, where they can readily be observed. The blood clotting system involves aggregation of amebocytes and the formation of an extracellular clot of a protein, coagulin, which is released from the secretory granules of the blood cells. Biochemical analysis of washed blood cells requires that aggregation and degranulation does not occur, which can be accomplished by collecting blood into 0.1 volumes of 2% Tween-20, 0.5 M LPS-free NaCl, followed by centrifugation of the cells and washing with 0.5 M NaCl.

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