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J Biol Eng. 2009 Sep 28;3:17. doi: 10.1186/1754-1611-3-17.

Puncture mechanics of cnidarian cnidocysts: a natural actuator.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607, USA.



Cnidocysts isolated from cnidarian organisms are attractive as a drug-delivery platform due to their fast, efficient delivery of toxins. The cnidocyst could be utilized as the means to deliver therapeutics in a wearable drug-delivery patch. Cnidocysts have been previously shown to discharge upon stimulation via electrical, mechanical, and chemical pathways. Cnidocysts isolated from the Portuguese Man O' War jellyfish (Physalia physalis) are attractive for this purpose because they possess relatively long threads, are capable of puncturing through hard fish scales, and are stable for years.


As a first step in using cnidocysts as a functional component of a drug delivery system, the puncture mechanics of the thread were characterized. Tentacle-contained cnidocysts were used as a best-case scenario due to physical immobilization of the cnidocysts within the tentacle. Ex vivo tentacle-contained cnidocysts from Physalia possessed an elastic modulus puncture threshold of approximately 1-2 MPa, based on puncture tests of materials with a gamut of hardness. Also, a method for inducing discharge of isolated cnidocysts was found, utilizing water as the stimulant. Preliminary lectin-binding experiments were performed using fluorophore-conjugated lectins as a possible means to immobilize the isolated cnidocyst capsule, and prevent reorientation upon triggering. Lectins bound homogeneously to the surface of the capsule, suggesting the lectins could be used for cnidocyst immobilization but not orientation.


Cnidocysts were found to puncture materials up to 1 MPa in hardness, can be discharged in a dry state using water as a stimulant, and bind homogeneously to lectins, a potential means of immobilization. The information gained from this preliminary work will aid in determining the materials and design of the patch that could be used for drug delivery.

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