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Hagfishes are known for their unique defensive slime, which they use toward off gill-breathing predators. Although much is known about the slime cells (gland thread cells and gland mucous cells), little is known about how long slime gland refilling takes, or how slime composition changes with refilling or repeated stimulation of the same gland. Slime glands can be individually electrostimulated to release slime, and this technique was used to measure slime gland refilling times for Atlantic and Pacific hagfish. The amount of exudate produced, the composition of the exudate and the morphometrics of slime cells were analyzed during refilling, and as a function of stimulation number when full glands were stimulated in rapid succession. Complete refilling of slime glands for both species took 3–4 weeks, with Pacific hagfish achieving faster absolute rates of exudate recovery than Atlantic hagfish. We found significant changes in the composition of the exudate and in the morphometrics of slime cells from Pacific hagfish during refilling. Over successive stimulations of full Pacific hagfish glands, multiple boluses of exudate were released, with exudate composition, but not thread cell morphometrics, changing significantly. Finally, histological examination of slime glands revealed slime cells retained in glands after exhaustion. Discrepancies in the volume of cells released suggest that mechanisms other than contraction of the gland musculature alone may be involved in exudate ejection. Our results provide a first look at the process and timing of slime gland refilling in hagfishes, and raise new questions about how refilling is achieved at the cellular level.


This article was originally published in Journal of Experimental Biology, volume 221, in 2018. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.172254


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