The Journal of experimental biology

A novel stiffening factor inducing the stiffest state of holothurian catch connective tissue.

PMID 20889821


The dermis of sea cucumbers is a catch connective tissue or mutable collagenous tissue that shows large changes in stiffness. Extensive studies on the dermis revealed that it can adopt three different states having different mechanical properties that can be reversibly converted. These are the stiff, standard and soft states. The standard state is readily produced when a dermal piece is immersed in the sea water containing Ca²+, whereas the soft state can be produced by removal of Ca²+. A stiffening protein, tensilin, has been isolated from some sea cucumbers (Cucumaria frondosa and Holothuria leucospilota). Although tensilin converts the state of the dermis from soft to standard, it cannot convert from standard to stiff. In this study, we isolated and partially purified a novel stiffening factor from the dermis of Holothuria leucospilota. The factor stiffened the dermis in normal artificial sea water (ASW) but did not stiffen the soft dermis in Ca²+-free ASW. It also stiffened the dermis that had been converted to the standard state in Ca²+-free ASW by the action of tensilin. These results suggest that the factor produces the stiff dermis from the standard state but cannot work as a stiffener on the soft dermis. Its addition to longitudinal muscles of the sea cucumber produced no effects, suggesting that its effect is specific to the catch connective tissue. Its stiffening activity was susceptible to trypsin, meaning that it is a polypeptide, and its molecular mass estimated from gel filtration chromatography was 2.4 kDa.