• immunological recognition;
  • larval antigens;
  • metamorphosis;
  • thyroid hormone;
  • tissue remodeling;
  • Xenopus laevis

Results from previous studies using an inbred strain of Xenopus laevis have led to the proposition that metamorphosis includes the events by which the newly differentiating adult immune system, including T lymphocytes, recognizes and eliminates larval skin cells as ‘non-self’. More recently, a larval antigen targeted by adult T cells was identified as a 59 kDa protein with a specific peptide sequence. Using antisera directed against the larval antigen and the peptide, immunohistochemistry and western blotting were done to examine expression of the 59 kDa larval antigen in the skin during larval and metamorphic periods. There was no expression before Nieuwkoop and Faber stage 53. Expression was first seen at the beginning of metamorphic stage 54, when hind limbs appear, and increased thereafter, in apical and skein cells of both trunk and tail regions. In the trunk region, expression started to decrease at stage 58, until it completely disappeared at stage 62 (metamorphic climax). In the tail skin, however, expression persisted throughout the metamorphic stages. Treatment of larvae with thyroid hormone (TH) resulted in repression of expression of the 59 kDa molecule in a dose-dependent manner. Downregulation occurred earlier in the trunk than in the tail skin. These results suggest involvement in metamorphic events of an immunological mechanism: differential expression of the larval antigen in the trunk and tail skin cells due to their differing concentration of TH results in the tail, but not the trunk skin, being selectively attacked by the newly differentiating adult-type immune system.