Immunocytochemical Localization of Actin and Tubulin in the Integument of Land Crab (Gecarcinus lateralis) and Lobster (Homarus americanus)

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The crustacean integument consists of the exoskeleton and underlying epithelium and associated tissues. The epithelium, which is composed of a single layer of cells, is responsible for the cyclical breakdown and synthesis of the exoskeleton associated with molting (ecdysis). During premolt (proecdysis) the epithelial cells lengthen and secrete the two outermost layers (epicuticle and exocuticle) of the new exoskeleton while partially degrading the two innermost layers (endocuticle and membranous layer) of the overlying old exoskeleton. This increased cellular activity is associated with increased protein synthesis and a change in cell shape from cuboidal to columnar. The cytoskeleton, composed of microfilaments (actin) and microtubules (tubulin), plays important roles in the intracellular organization and motility of eukaryotic cells. Immunoblot analysis shows that the land crab exoskeleton contains actin, tubulin, and actin-related proteins (Varadaraj et al. 1996. Gene 171:177-184). In the present study, immunocytochemistry of land crab and lobster integument showed that both proteins were localized in various cell types, including epithelia, connective tissue, tendinal cells, and blood vessels. Muscle immunostained for actin and myosin, but not for tubulin. The membranous layer of land crab (the other layers of the exoskeleton were not examined) and membranous layer and endocuticle of lobster also reacted specifically with anti-β-actin and anti-α-tubulin monoclonal antibodies, but not with an anti-myosin heavy chain antibody. During proecdysis immunolabeling of the membranous layer decreased probably due to protein degradation. The staining intensity for actin and tubulin in the proecdysial epithelium was similar to that in the intermolt (anecdysial) epithelium, suggesting that there was a net accumulation of both proteins proportional to the increase in cellular volume. These results support the previous biochemical analyses and, more specifically, localize actin and tubulin in exoskeletal structures, suggesting that they may serve both intracellular and extracellular functions in crustaceans.