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Keywords:

  • adhesive gland;
  • barnacle;
  • bioadhesion;
  • biomimetics;
  • histochemistry;
  • immunohistochemistry;
  • ultrastructure

Abstract

Adhesives that are naturally produced by marine organisms are potential sources of inspiration in the search for medical adhesives. Investigations of barnacle adhesives are at an early stage but it is becoming obvious that barnacles utilize a unique adhesive system compared to other marine organisms. The current study examined the fine structure and chemistry of the glandular system that produces the adhesive of the barnacle Lepas anatifera. All components for the glue originated from large single-cell glands (70–180 μm). Staining (including immunostaining) showed that L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine and phosphoserine were not present in the glue producing tissues, demonstrating that the molecular adhesion of barnacles differs from all other permanently gluing marine animals studied to date. The glandular tissue and adhesive secretion primarily consisted of slightly acidic proteins but also included some carbohydrate. Adhesive proteins were stored in cytoplasmic granules adjacent to an intracellular drainage canal (ICC); observations implicated both merocrine and apocrine mechanisms in the transport of the secretion from the cell cytoplasm to the ICC. Inside the ICC, the secretion was no longer contained within granules but was a flocculent material which became “clumped” as it traveled through the canal network. Hemocytes were not seen within the adhesive “apparatus” (comprising of the glue producing cells and drainage canals), nor was there any structural mechanism by which additions such as hemocytes could be made to the secretion. The unicellular adhesive gland in barnacles is distinct from multicellular adhesive systems observed in marine animals such as mussels and tubeworms. Because the various components are not physically separated in the apparatus, the barnacle adhesive system appears to utilize completely different and unknown mechanisms for maintaining the liquid state of the glue within the body, as well as unidentified mechanisms for the conversion of extruded glue into hard cement. J. Morphol., 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.