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J Exp Biol. 1999 May;202 (Pt 9):1139-50.

Impulse conduction in a sponge.

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Biology Department, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.


All-or-none propagated electrical impulses were recorded from the hexactinellid sponge Rhabdocalyptus dawsoni using suction electrodes attached to lumps of aggregated sponge tissue grafted onto the surface of pieces of the same sponge. Impulses were normally evoked by means of externally applied electrical shocks. Recorded externally using an a.c.-coupled amplifier, the electrical event was triphasic and lasted approximately 30 s; integration gave a diphasic waveform. A further integration to give the form of the membrane action potential produced a monophasic signal. Impulses propagated at 0.27+/-0.1 cm s-1 with an absolute refractory period of 29 s and a relative refractory period of approximately 150 s. Concurrent thermistor flow meter recordings confirmed that water flow through the sponge was arrested following the passage of an impulse, presumably as result of the cessation of beating of the flagella in the flagellated chambers. Tactile stimuli also evoked impulses, as did addition of particulate material to the incoming water stream. Impulses continued to propagate through the sponge during arrests, indicating that the conduction and effector systems were independent. Sponges lack nerves, and a variety of evidence indicates that the conducting tissues are the syncytial trabecular reticulum and pinacoderm layers. Na+-deficient solutions had little effect on the action potential, but propagation was blocked by 10 mmol l-1 Co2+, 1 mmol l-1 Mn2+ or 24 micromol l-1 nimodipine. Tetraethylammonium ions at 1-5 mmol l-1 also blocked propagation without prolonging the action potential. Impulse conduction in the sponge is discussed in relation to excitability and conduction in the protozoa and in plants and to non-nervous conduction in more advanced animals.

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