The socio-economic importance of non-timber forest products for rural livelihoods in West African savanna ecosystems: current status and future trends
- For millennia, rural West African communities living in or adjacent of savanna ecosystems have been collecting components of local plant species (e.g. fruits, leaves, bark) in order to fulfil essential household subsistence needs (alimentation, medical care, energy demand etc.), to generate cash income and to overcome times of (financial) crisis. Thus, these non-timber forest products (NTFPs) make a considerable contribution to the well-being of local households. However, climate and land use change severely impact West African savanna ecosystems and, consequently, the safe-guarding of dependent rural livelihoods. The conversion of savanna area into cultivated land for subsistence farming owing to the ongoing population growth, as well as the progressive promotion of cash crops (e.g. cotton) is ever-increasing. As a consequence, present land-use management in West Africa has to cope with serious trade-offs. Within this decision-making NTFPs have been constantly understated due to a lack of appropriate economic figures to use within common cost-benefit analysis, and, thus, have been frequently outcompeted by seemingly more profitable land-use options. Therefore, it is crucial to provide appropriate economic data for NTFPs in order to create positive incentives for both decision-makers and NTFP beneficiaries to conserve NTFP-providing trees. The key finding of this analysis is that income from NTFPs accounts for 39 % on average of an annual total household income in Northern Benin, representing the second largest income share next to crop income and proving the respective households to be economically heavily dependent on NTFPs. Thereby, socio-economic characteristics of NTFP users tremendously shape their preferences for woody species. Particularly ethnicity has a major impact on the species used and the economic return obtained by them. Moreover, the study investigated the impacts of climate and land use change on the economic benefits derived from the three economically most important tree species in the region Vitellaria paradoxa, Parkia biglobosa and Adansonia digitata in 2050: Environmental changes will have primarily negative effects on the economic returns from all the three species. At large, the study underpins the economic relevance of NTFPs for rural communities in West African savannas and, consequently, the necessity to appropriately sustain them in order to safe-guard local livelihoods. Providing key figures on the current and future economic benefits obtained from NTFPs can augment common cost-benefit analysis, and, delivering detailed information about peoples’ use preferences for local species, this study clearly contributes to improve the basis of decision-making with reference to local land-use policies.
Taxonomic revision, molecular phylogeny and zoogeography of the huntsman spider genus Eusparassus (Araneae: Sparassidae)
- The spider genus Eusparassus Simon, 1903 (Araneae: Sparassidae: Eusparassinae; stone huntsman spider) is revised worldwide to include 30 valid species distributed exclusively in Africa and Eurasia. The type species E. dufouri Simon, 1932 is redescribed and a neotype is designated from Portugal. An extended diagnosis for the genus is presented. Eight new species are described: Eusparassus arabicus Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from Arabian Peninsula, E. educatus Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from Namibia, E. reverentia Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from Burkina Faso and Nigeria, E. jaegeri Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from South Africa and Botswana, E. jocquei Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from Zimbabwe, E. borakalalo Moradmand, 2013 (female) from South Africa, E. schoemanae Moradmand, 2013 (male, female) from South Africa and Namibia and E. mesopotamicus Moradmand and Jäger, 2012 (male and female) from Iraq, Iran and Turkey. 22 species are re-described six of them are transferred from the genus Olios Walckenaer, 1837. Six species-groups are proposed: the dufouri-group [8 species: E. dufouri, E. levantinus Urones, 2006, E. barbarus (Lucas, 1846), E. atlanticus Simon, 1909, E. syrticus Simon, 1909, E. oraniensis (Lucas, 1846), E. letourneuxi (Simon, 1874), E. fritschi (Koch, 1873); Iberian Peninsula to parts of north-western Africa], walckenaeri-group [3 species: E. walckenaeri (Audouin, 1826), E. laevatus (Simon, 1897), E. arabicus; eastern Mediterranean to Arabia and parts of north-eastern Africa], doriae-group [7 species: E. doriae (Simon, 1874), E. kronebergi Denis, 1958, E. maynardi (Pocock, 1901), E. potanini (Simon, 1895), E. fuscimanus Denis, 1958, E. oculatus (Kroneberg, 1846) and E. mesopotamicus; Middle East to Central and South Asia], vestigator-group (3 species: E. vestigator (Simon, 1897), E. reverentia, E. pearsoni (Pocock, 1901); central to eastern Africa and an isolated area in NW India], jaegeri-group [4 species: E. jaegeri, E. jocquei, E. borakalalo, E. schoemanae; southern and south-eastern Africa], tuckeri-group [2 species: E. tuckeri (Lawrence, 1927), E. educatus; south-western Africa). Two species, E. pontii Caporiacco, 1935 and E. xerxes (Pocock, 1901) cannot be placed in any of the above groups. Two species are transferred from Eusparassus to Olios: O. flavovittatus (Caporiacco, 1935) and O. quesitio Moradmand, 2013. 14 species are recognized as misplaced in Eusparassus, thus nearly half of the described species prior to this revision were placed mistakenly in this genus. Neotypes are designated for E. walckenaeri from Egypt, E. barbarus, E. oraniensis and E. letourneuxi (all three from Algeria) to establish their identity. The male and female of Cercetius perezi Simon, 1902, which was known only from the immature holotype, are described for the first time. It is recognized that the monotypic and little used generic name Cercetius Simon, 1902 — a species, which had been known only from the immature holotype — as a synonym of the widely used name Eusparassus. The case proposal 3596 (conservation of name Eusparassus) is under consideration by ICZN.
The first comprehensive molecular phylogeny of the family Sparassidae with focus on the genus Eusparassus is investigated using four molecular markers (mitochondrial COI and 16S; nuclear H3 and 28S). The monophyly of Eusparassus and the dufouri, walckenaeri and doriae species-groups are recovered with the latter two groups more closely related. The monophyly of the tuckeri-group is not supported and the position of E. jaegeri as the only available member of the jaegeri-group is not resolved within the Eusparassus clade. DNA samples of the vestigator-group were not accessible for this study. The origination of the genus Eusparassus around 70 million years ago (MA) is estimated according to molecular clock analyses. Using this recent result in combination with some biogeographic and geological data, the Namib Desert is proposed as the place of ancestral origin for Eusparassus and putative Eusparassinae genera.
Further analyses are done on the phylogenetic relationships of Sparassidae and its subfamilies. The Eusparassinae are not confirmed as monophyletic, with the two original genera Eusparassus and Pseudomicrommata in separate clades and only the latter clusters with most other assumed Eusparassinae, here termed the "African clade". Monophyly of the subfamilies Sparianthinae, Heteropodinae sensu stricto, Palystinae and Deleninae is recovered. The Sparianthinae are supported as the most basal clade, diverging considerably early (143 MA) from all other Sparassidae. The Sparassinae and genus Olios are found to be polyphyletic. The Sparassidae are confirmed as monophyletic and as most basal group within the RTA-clade. The divergence time of Sparassidae from the RTA-clade is estimated with 186 MA in the Jurassic. No affiliation of Sparassidae to other members of the "Laterigradae" (Philodromidae, Selenopidae and Thomisidae) is observed, thus the crab-like posture of this group was proposed a result of convergent evolution. Only the families Philodromidae and Selenopidae are found members of a supported clade. Including a considerable amount of RTA-clade representatives, the higher-level clade Dionycha is not but monophyly of the RTA-clade itself is supported.
Role of G-protein G12/13 signaling in angiogenesis
Kishor Kumar Sivaraj
- Angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels from existing ones, is a fundamental biological process required for embryonic development; it also plays an important role during postnatal organ development and various physiological and pathological remodeling processes in the adult organism. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its main receptor, VEGF receptor-2 (VEGFR-2), play a central role in angiogenesis. VEGFR-2 expression is strongly upregulated in angiogenic vessels, but the mechanisms regulating VEGFR-2 expression are not well understood. We found in this study that the G-protein α subunit Gα13 plays an important role in the regulation of VEGFR-2 expression. In vitro, we found that knockdown of Gα13 reduced VEGFR-2 expression in human umbilical vein endothelial cells and impaired responsiveness to VEGF-A. This phenotype was rescued by adenoviral normalization of VEGFR-2 expression. Gα13-dependent VEGFR-2 expression involved activation of the small GTPase RhoA and transcription factor NF-κB; it was abrogated by deletion of the NF-κB binding site at position -84 of the VEGFR-2 promoter. In vivo, endothelial cell-specific loss of Gα13 resulted in reduced VEGFR-2 expression, impaired responsiveness towards VEGF-A in Matrigel assays, and reduced retinal angiogenesis. Importantly, also tumor vascularization was diminished in the absence of endothelial Gα13, resulting in reduced tumor growth. Taken together, we identified Gα13-dependent NF-κB activation as a new pathway underlying the transcriptional regulation of VEGFR-2 during retinal and tumor angiogenesis.
Reprogramming of tumor cells : signaling events and phenotypes
Chul Min Yang
- Cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and the capacity to disseminate to distant organs. The properties of cancers are caused by genetic and epigenetic alterations when compared to their normal counterparts. Genetic mutations occur in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes and are the initial drivers of cellular transformation (Lengauer et al., 1998; Vogelstein and Kinzler, 2004). In addition, epigenetic alterations, which influence the expression of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes independently from sequence alterations, are also involved in the transformation process (Esteller and Herman, 2001; Sharma et al., 2010). Genetic alterations and epigenetic regulatory signals cooperate in tumor etiology. Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a frequent and aggressive malignant brain tumor in humans. The median survival of GBM patients is about 15 months after diagnosis. Like in other cancers, genetic and epigenetic alterations can be detected in GBM. Genetic alterations in GBM affect cell growth, apoptosis, angiogenesis, and invasion; however, epigenetic alterations in GBM also affect the expression of oncogenes or tumor suppresser genes that increase tumor malignancy (Nagarajan and Costello, 2009).
Reprogramming is a cellular process in which somatic cells can be induced to assume the properties of less differentiated stem cells. This process can be mediated through epigenetic modifications of the genome of somatic cells by the action of four defined transcription factors (Oct4, Sox2, Klf4 and Myc) or by the action of the miR 302/367 cluster (Anokye-Danso et al., 2011; Takahashi and Yamanaka, 2006; Takahashi et al., 2007) and result in the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Reprogramming of somatic cells by the miR 302/367 cluster can generate nontumorigenic iPS cells through the inhibition of the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), cell cycle regulatory genes and epigenetic modifiers (Lin and Ying, 2013).
Neurophysiological events induced by octopamine and serotonin in the honeybee brain
Nephronectin regulates cardiac valve development via BMP4-HAS2 signaling in zebrafish
- It has been estimated that about 1% of live births carry severe congenital heart defects and 20-30% among them have valve malformations. Despite its medical importance the underlying cause of many valvular diseases remains undiscovered. Thus, it is important to identify genes that play a crucial role in cardiac valve formation and maturation.
A temporal RNA expression analysis of heart development suggested that the extracellular matrix protein Nephronectin might be a novel regulator of valve development and/or trabeculation. Nephronectin is transiently expressed during rat heart development at the time of heart valve morphogenesis and trabeculation. Moreover, the extracellular matrix is known to be crucial for organogenesis. It is a complex, dynamic and critical component that regulates cell behavior by modulating the activity, bioavailability, or presentation of growth factors to cell surface receptors.
In order to verify the hypothesis that Nephronectin is a novel regulator of valve formation and/or trabeculation the zebrafish was chosen as model system. Females are able to spawn at intervals of 5 days laying hundreds of eggs in each clutch. Development progresses rapidly with precursors to all major organs appearing within 36 hours post fertilization. Zebrafish embryos develop externally, are translucent and continue to grow for several days despite developing severely malformed, non functional hearts. In addition, gene expression can be easily modulated. During the present study it has been shown that Nephronectin expression is correlated to valve development and trabeculation. Morpholinomediated knockdown of Nephronectin in zebrafish caused failure of valve formation and trabeculation resulting in > 85% lethality at 7 days post fertilization.
Cardiac valve formation is initiated at the junction of atrium and ventricle and is characterized by extracellular matrix deposition and endocardial cell differentiation. In accordance with the above-described phenotype the earliest observed abnormality in Nephronectin morphants was an extended tube like structure at the atrio-ventricular boundary. In addition, the expression of myocardial genes involved in cardiac valve formation (cspg2, fibulin1, tbx2b, bmp4) was expanded and endocardial cells along the extended tube like structure exhibited characteristics of atrio-ventricular cells (has2, notch1b and Alcam expression, cuboidal cell shape). Inhibition of has2 in Nephronectin morphants rescued the endocardial but not the myocardial expansion. In contrast, diminishment of BMP signaling in npnt morphants resulted in reduced ectopic expression of myocardial and endocardial atrio-ventricular markers. Taken together, these results identify Nephronectin as a novel upstream regulator of BMP4-HAS2 signaling playing a crucial role in atrio-ventricular canal differentiation.
Impact of land-use on savanna vegetation and populations of non-timber forest product-providing tree species in West Africa
- Savannas are the most important timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) providing ecosystems in West Africa. They have been shaped by traditional human land-use (i.e. agriculture, grazing, and harvesting) for thousands of years. In the last decades, land-use has drastically changed due to the rapid population growth and the growing production of cash-crop in West Africa and this process is still continuing. The percentage of land intensively used for agriculture has increased, while the length of fallow periods has decreased. Such changes have enormous ecological, economic, and social consequences. In the context of land-use changes, there is an urgent need to better understand and evaluate the impact of land-use on savannas. Such an understanding provides insights on appropriate management activities that ensure the maintenance of savannas and guarantee the availability of savanna products for subsistence and commercial use of rural West African people.
The major objective of the present thesis was to study the impact of land-use on savanna vegetation and diversity as well as on populations of two important NTFP-providing tree species in a semi-arid area in West Africa. The study area was located in the south-eastern part of Burkina Faso and comprised the protected W National Park and its adjacent communal area.
In the first study (chapter 2), I investigated in cooperation with a colleague from Burkina Faso (Blandine Nacoulma) the impact of land-use on the savanna vegetation. We analyzed which environmental factors determine the occurrence of the vegetation types and investigated the effect of land-use on vegetation structure and the occurrence of life forms and highly valued tree species. Furthermore, we tested whether land-use has an impact on plant diversity pattern and if this impact differed between the vegetation types and layers (woody and herb layer). Vegetation relevés were performed and the vegetation and plant diversity of the protected W National Park were compared with those of its surrounding communal area. Our results reveal five vegetation types occurring in both areas. Elevation and physical soil characteristics and thus soil water availability for plants played the most important role for the occurrence of the vegetation types. The influence of land-use on plant diversity differed between the five vegetation types and the two layers. The impact was highest on the vegetation types with the most favorable soil conditions for cultivation and lowest on rocky habitats with poor soils. While the diversity of the woody layer was increased under human land-use, the diversity of the herb layer was diminished. Overall, as land-use effects were not only negative, our findings suggest that land-use does not automatically lead to a loss of plant species and to a degradation of savanna habitats. We conclude that both protected and communal areas are of great importance for the conservation of savanna vegetation and diversity. Our study highlights furthermore the importance of different management strategies for each vegetation type.
In the following two studies (chapter 3 and 4), the impact of land-use - and in particular of harvesting - on populations of Adansonia digitata L., the baobab tree, and Anogeissus leiocarpa (DC.) Guill. & Perr. was examined. These two tree species were chosen as they provide several NTFPs for the local population and as they show different levels of human protection and opposed life histories. Thus, they may react differently to land-use. Stands of the protected W National Park were compared with those of its surrounding communal area (in fallows, croplands, and villages). I applied dendrometric methods to study the population structures and combined it with rates and patterns of NTFP-harvesting (debarking and chopping/pruning). Furthermore, the impact of land-use and harvesting on the fruit production of A. digitata and on the sprouting ability of A. leiocarpa were studied. The inverse J-shaped size class distribution curve indicates that the stands of A. digitata were in a healthy state in the park, while the low number of smaller size classes in fallows, croplands, and villages may give evidence of an ageing population. However, a high number of seedlings were recorded in villages. The stands of A. leiocarpa were also in healthy states in the park and likewise in fallows. In contrast, the absence of saplings gives evidence of a declining population in croplands. Both species were strongly harvested by local people and harvesting was tree size-specific. Pruning in interaction with tree-size had a significant impact on fruit production of A. digitata. While smaller trees were more vulnerable to pruning, bigger trees benefited from slight-pruning. A. leiocarpa had a great ability to respond to chopping by sprouting. The sprouting ability increased even with higher chopping intensity. Results suggest that despite the intense harvesting and the land-use impact, populations of both species are still well preserved. While A. digitata can withstand the harvesting and land-use pressure by its longevity, extremely low adult mortality rates, and particularly due to positive human influences, A. leiocarpa is able to withstand the use pressure by its fast growing, high recruitment, and high sprouting ability. I conclude that a none protected tree species (A. leiocarpa) might not necessarily be at higher risk to the harvesting and land-use impact than a protected tree species (A. digitata) as the adverse impact of harvesting and land-use can be compensated by its specific life history.
Important additional information to such ecological findings can be provided by local people. Learning from traditional knowledge and management systems of local people will help to produce culturally and ecologically reasonable conservation and management strategies. Thus, I investigated local uses and management strategies of A. digitata and A. leiocarpa in the last two studies (chapter 5 and 6). Quantitative ethnobotanical surveys among the Gulimanceba people were conducted in the communal area in order to document uses of the different plant parts, harvesting modes, perceptions about the population status, and conservation status of both species. Hereby, differences in knowledge between gender, generations, and people from different villages were tested. Interviews reveal that both species are harvested for multipurpose and emphasize the high importance of both species for local people. Especially the leaves and fruits of A. digitata add valuable minerals and vitamins to the otherwise micronutrient-“poor” staple crops of the Gulimanceba people. In comparison with other studies in West Africa, it has turned out that people in this area could benefit even more from A. leiocarpa, e.g. for dyeing of clothes, for treatment of malaria and skin problems. Local knowledge did not differ between genders and generations, while it slightly differed between people from different villages. The lack of age differences suggests that the traditional knowledge about these two species is passed on from one generation to another. Differences between people from different villages might be explained by influences from the neighboring countries Niger and Benin. Current local harvesting modes and management strategies of both species resulted in sustainable use. However, ongoing land-use intensifications require adapted harvesting and management techniques to guarantee the persistence of these economically important species. These results provide, in combination with the ecological findings (chapter 3 and 4), appropriate management recommendations for A. digitata and A. leiocarpa that are reliable under currently practiced management strategies.
Genetic and chemical biology approaches for the characterization of the yeast PDK1 orthologs in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans
- Fungal organisms, including the most common human pathogens Candida spp., are commensal organisms that are widely present as part of the human flora. Fungal infections are, most frequently, local infections that do not compromise the life of patients. However, mycotic diseases can be life-threatening if they become systemic infections. Systemic fungal infections have risen over the last three decades in parallel to the increased immune-compromised population as a consequence of diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS) or therapeutic interventions that affect the immune system (e.g. chemotherapy for cancer treatment and immunosuppressors used for patients with organ transplants). This has resulted in the demand of new antifungal drugs that can eradicate the new infections caused by these opportunistic fungal pathogens. However, most of the current compounds have poor pharmaceutical properties such as narrow spectrum of activity, susceptibility to be extruded by efflux pumps or lack of specificity, which make them not suitable for human clinical applications. The treatment of fungal and parasitic infections has been traditionally difficult because the infective organisms are eukaryotic cells that share most of the pathways and enzymes with human cells. To avoid side effects and to develop a targeted therapy, the research has traditionally been centered on the very few enzymes and pathways existing in the infectious organism but absent in humans. Until now, antifungal therapeutic options are limited and are almost dominated by azole class of sterol biosynthesis inhibitors affecting the synthesis of ergosterol, a major constituent of the fungal cell membrane. Because human cells do not have a cell wall, the development of effective and safe antifungal agents has also been directed to enzymes required for the synthesis of the cell wall. Alternatively, it is theoretically possible to target enzymes that are present in fungal organisms and in humans, when: 1) sufficient selectivity can be achieved, and 2) inhibition of the fungal enzyme is lethal to the fungus but does not produce major side effects to humans. In this line, it would be ideal to evaluate the development of selective inhibitors of enzymes which are already known to be drug targets, like protein kinases.
Function of flotillins in Alzheimer disease and apoptosis
Bincy Anu John
- Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a common, age associated neurodegenerative disease that manifests as progressive dementia and is characterized by accumulation of the amyloid beta (Aβ) peptide which is a processing product of a transmembrane protein termed Alzheimer Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP). The Aβ peptide is generated by a sequential proteolytic processing of APP by two distinct proteases that are termed β- and γ-secretase. The β-secretase, also called BACE-1 or memapsin 2, belongs to the family of aspartyl proteases. BACE-1 evidently cleaves APP in an acidic endosomal compartment after endocytosis of APP, thereby facilitating Aβ peptide generation.
Sorting of transmembrane proteins is generally controlled by sorting signals in the cytoplasmic domains of the cargo proteins. The short cytoplasmic tail of BACE-1 with 23 amino acids contains a sorting signal of the acidic cluster, di-leucine (ACDL) type. The two Leu residues in this determinant are important for the clathrin mediated endocytosis of BACE-1, whereas the acidic residues together with the Leu are required for the endosomal sorting and recycling of BACE-1 back to the plasma membrane. The ACDL motif binds to the members of the GGA (Golgi-localized γ ear-containg ARF- binding proteins) family (GGA1-GGA3) that are involved in the sorting of BACE-1.
One of the major aims of this study was to address the role of flotillins in the intracellular sorting of BACE-1. This study shows that flotillin-1 directly binds to the di-leucine motif in the cytoplasmic tail of BACE-1, whereas flotillin-2 only shows an association mediated by flotillin-1. Flotillin-1 competes with GGA2 for the binding to BACE-1 tail, and thus influences the endosomal sorting of BACE-1. Importantly, depletion of flotillins results in an altered localization of the wildtype BACE-1, whereas the plasma membrane resident Leu to Ala (LLAA) mutant is not affected. Flotillin knockdown results in an accumulation of BACE-1, implicating reduced degradation and enhanced stability of this protease. Thus, flotillins appear to be important for the cellular targeting of BACE-1 and also influence the amyloidogenic processing of APP, as demonstrated by an increase in the amyloidogenic C-99 processing fragments.
When flotillin depleted cells were subjected to apoptotic stresses including Aβ25-35 synthetic peptide (inducer of the extrinsic apoptosis pathway) or several chemotherapeutic agents (staurosporine, brefeldin A, doxorubicin, carboplatin and paclitaxel: intrinsic apoptosis pathway) and cytotoxicity was determined, various apoptotic markers were activated in flotillin depleted cells. Caspase-3 and GGA3 are well accepted apoptosis markers and an enhanced caspase-3 cleavage was detected upon STS induced apoptosis in SH-SY5Y, HeLa, and HaCaT cell lines and increased GGA3 cleavage was observed in MCF7 cell line.
One of the major reasons for the apoptotic sensitivity in the absence of flotillins was a PI3K/Akt signaling defect. Neuroblastoma cells depleted of flotillins showed diminished levels of total Akt, phospho-Akt and phospho-ERK upon STS induced apoptosis. Since PI3K/Akt was the primary survival pathway affected upon STS induced apoptosis, ectopic expression of Akt in neuroblastoma cell line reduced caspase-3 cleavage and retarded apoptosis.
The direct downstream target of Akt is FOXO3a, whose localization was investigated in flotillin depleted cells. A major proportion of FOXO3a was localized in the nucleus of flotillin knockdown cells, implicating that FOXOs are active in these cells and subsequently trigger the transcription of death genes. Strikingly, an essential anti-apoptotic molecule and a major cancer target, Mcl-1, was inherently downregulated in flotillin knockdown cells. Mcl-1 is a chief member of the Bcl-2 family as it plays a pivotal role in cell survival and it is a critical protein in cancer therapeutics as suppression of Mcl-1 protein can curtail the survival and growth of tumorous cells.
Neuroblastoma cells were rescued from undergoing permanent damage due to STS induced apoptosis by overexpression of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2. Phorbol esters are well known PKC activators, and pre-treatment of neuroblastoma cells with phorbol esters along with staurosporine reduced caspase-3 cleavage.
These results demonstrate that absence of flotillins can sensitize cellular systems to apoptosis induction. The two main characteristics of cancer cells include resistance to apoptosis and unresponsiveness to chemotherapeutic agents. It is a well established fact that impaired apoptosis is central to tumour development. This study implicates that the downregulation of flotillin function can trigger cellular susceptibility and enhances apoptosis in response to conventional chemotherapeutic agents. Therefore, flotillins can serve as vital regulators in providing a more rational approach in molecular-targeted therapies for receding cancer growth and survival.
European pea crabs - taxonomy, morphology, and host-ecology (Crustacea: Brachyura: Pinnotheridae)
- Pinnotherids are small crabs symbiotic to a variety of invertebrates. The European species infest bivalves and sea squirts. Their way of life is parasitic and poses a threat to commercially exploited bivalves. While juveniles of both sexes still look very similar - being agile swimmers and partially free living - a metamorphosis takes place in the female after mating and results in a conspicuous sexual dimorphism. Thereafter, the female settles in its host definitely and is morphologically strongly adapted to the parasitic life phase. A very high reproductive output was demonstrated among several pea crab species infesting bivalves. Despite from that, hardly any information is present in the literature on the pinnotherids’ reproductive biology and the underlying morphology.
Due to their cryptic way of life, the sexual dimorphism, and the different morphotypes of the female, the taxonomy of the Pinnotheridae is a serious challenge. Two widely accepted species are recognized on European coasts: Pinnotheres pisum and Nepinnotheres pinnotheres. Pinnotheres pectunculi was so far only known from the bivalve Glycymeris glycymeris in its type locality Roscoff (France), while Pinnotheres ascidicola and Pinnotheres marioni were described as living exclusively in ascidians without careful comparison with the previously described species. In order to produce standardized comparative descriptions, pea crabs were collected and studied from different hosts and localities in the Northeast Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. Nepinnotheres pinnotheres and Pinnotheres pisum were redescribed with consideration to characters of female and male. According to our morphological analysis, Pinnotheres ascidicola and Pinnotheres marioni are junior synonyms of Nepinnotheres pinnotheres, whereas the status of Pinnotheres pectunculi as a valid species was ascertained. Important characters are the mouthparts, the male gonopods, and especially chelipeds that showed consistent characteristics among different crab stages of both sexes.
Based on our sampling, we estimated the host-range of the European species. Nepinnotheres pinnotheres lives in ascidians and in the pen shell Pinna nobilis. Pinnotheres pisum infests numerous bivalve species - Pinna nobilis included. For Pinnotheres pectunculi novel host records are presented, all from the bivalve family Veneridae. Furthermore, feeding of the Pinnotheres-species was observed. They use a setae comb ventrally on the claw to brush mucus (and the accumulated food particles) from the bivalve gills. Feeding strategies and host-ecology will be thoroughly discussed in consideration to other Pinnotheridae.
We investigated the reproductive systems of European pinnotherids by histological methods, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and confocal laser scanning microscopy.
The Eubrachyura have internal fertilization: paired vaginas enlarge into storage structures, the spermathecae, which are connected to the ovaries by oviducts. Sperm is stored until the oocytes are mature and transported into the spermathecae, where fertilization takes place. In the investigated pinnotherids, the vagina is of the ‘concave pattern’. Musculature is attached alongside flexible parts of the vagina-wall to control the dimension of its lumen. The genital opening is closed by a muscular mobile operculum.
The spermatheca can be divided into two distinct regions by function and morphology. The ventral part includes the connection with vagina and oviduct and is regarded as the zone where fertilization takes place. It is lined with cuticle except where the oviduct enters the spermatheca by the ‘holocrine transfer tissue’. At ovulation, the oocytes have to pass through this multi-layered glandular epithelium, which has a holocrine mode secretion. The dorsal part of the spermatheca is lined by a highly secretory apocrine glandular epithelium, which was to date only found in fiddler crabs of the genus Uca.
The male internal reproductive system consists of paired testes and corresponding vasa deferentia. The sperm morphology of pinnotherids conforms to other thoracotremes, with slight differences between Nepinnotheres pinnotheres and Pinnotheres pisum. Spermatozoa become enveloped into spermatophores in the secretory proximal vas deferens. The medial vas deferens is strongly enlarged and stores spermatophores embedded in seminal plasma. The distal vas deferens holds tubular appendices, which extend into the ventral cephalothorax and slightly into the pleon. These appendices produce and store vast quantities of seminal plasma. The copulatory system of the Brachyura is formed by paired penes and two pairs of gonopods, which function in sperm transfer. In pinnotherids, the long first gonopods transfers the sperm mass to the female. It holds the ejaculatory canal inside, which opens proximally and distally. The second gonopod is solid, short and conical. During copulation, the penis and the second gonopod are inserted into the base of the tubular first gonopod. The second gonopod functions in the transport of the sperm mass inside the ejaculatory canal towards its distal opening. The specific shape of the second gonopod is strongly adapted for a sealing of the tubular first gonopod with longitudinal cuticle foldings that interlock inside the first gonopod. The presented results are discussed concerning their function in reproduction and in respect of the systematic account.
The role of secretion in sperm transfer, storage and fertilization among the Brachyura is still under debate. It is notable that structure and function of secretion are more complex in pinnotherids and probably more efficient than in other brachyuran crabs, which will be discussed, in view of the parasitic way of life and the high fecundity of pinnotherids.