Fibers are ubiquitous in biology, and include tensile materials produced by specialized glands (such as silks), extracellular fibrils that reinforce exoskeletons and connective tissues (such as chitin and collagen), as well as intracellular filaments that make up the metazoan cytoskeleton (such as F-actin, microtubules, and intermediate filaments). Hagfish gland thread cells are unique in that they produce a high aspect ratio fiber from cytoskeletal building blocks within the confines of their cytoplasm. These threads are elaborately coiled into structures that readily unravel when they are ejected into seawater from the slime glands. In this review we summarize what is currently known about the structure and function of gland thread cells and we speculate about the mechanism that these cells use to produce a mechanically robust fiber that is almost one hundred thousand times longer than it is wide. We propose that a key feature of this mechanism involves the unidirectional rotation of the cell’s nucleus, which would serve to twist disorganized filaments into a coherent thread and impart a torsional stress on the thread that would both facilitate coiling and drive energetic unravelling in seawater.
Fudge DS and Schorno S (2016). The hagfish gland thread cell: a fiber-producing cell involved in predator defense. Cells. 5(2): 25. doi: 10.3390/cells5020025
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