Differential polymorphism in cutaneous glands of archaic Leiopelma species



Endemic New Zealand frogs of the genus Leiopelma are from a basal lineage of extant anurans that release defensive secretions onto their skin when disturbed. Here, we characterize the gross anatomy and microscopic structure of the skin of L. archeyi, L. hochstetteri, and L. pakeka using stereoscopic, light and transmission electron microscopy. The terrestrial L. archeyi and L. pakeka possess dimorphic granular glands, categorized as type I and II, based on their frequency and morphological traits, whereas the semi-aquatic L. hochstetteri lacks type I glands. This is the first report of differential dimorphism in anurans of the same genus. This dimorphism could be interpreted as an adaptation to different physiological or ecological needs of these species. However, species within this ancient genus share similar general gland morphology with other anurans, namely, a secretory unit containing storage granules ensheathed by myoepithelial cells. Type I glands are ellipsoid, large and contain a homogeneous mass of electron-dense granules (1.8 ± 0.08 μm in diameter). Type II glands are round and contain larger heterogeneous granules (4.06 ± 0.16 μm) of varying densities. Exposure to noradrenaline causes the contraction of myoepithelial cells, resulting in bulk discharge of type I glands through the epidermal duct onto the skin surface. Differential release of secretions from dimorphic glands may be indicative of their functional specialisation in antipredatory or regulative roles. Mass spectrometric techniques were used to de novo sequence peptides present in the skin secretions of Leiopelma species. A total of 30 previously undescribed peptides from Leiopelma species were fully or partially sequenced. These peptides exhibited no similarity to any known compounds. J. Morphol. 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.