The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 56: 567 - 576 (2012)

Vol 56, Issue 6-7-8

Special Issue: The Hydra Model System

Components, structure, biogenesis and function of the Hydra extracellular matrix in regeneration, pattern formation and cell differentiation

Published: 5 June 2012

Michael P. Sarras (Jr)*

Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, North Chicago, IL., USA


The body wall of Hydra is organized as an epithelial bilayer (ectoderm and endoderm) with an intervening extracellular matrix (ECM), termed mesoglea by early biologists. Morphological studies have determined that Hydra ECM is composed of two basal lamina layers positioned at the base of each epithelial layer with an intervening interstitial matrix. Molecular and biochemical analyses of Hydra ECM have established that it contains components similar to those seen in more complicated vertebrate species. These components include such macromolecules as laminin, type IV collagen, and various fibrillar collagens. These components are synthesized in a complicated manner involving cross-talk between the epithelial bilayer. Any perturbation to ECM biogenesis leads to a blockage in Hydra morphogenesis. Blockage in ECM/cell interactions in the adult polyp also leads to problems in epithelial transdifferentiation processes. In terms of biophysical parameters, Hydra ECM is highly flexible; a property that facilitates continuous movements along the organism’s longitudinal and radial axis. This is in contrast to the more rigid matrices often found in vertebrates. The flexible nature of Hydra ECM can in part now be explained by the unique structure of the organism’s type IV collagen and fibrillar collagens. This review will focus on Hydra ECM in regard to: 1) its general structure, 2) its molecular composition, 3) the biophysical basis for the flexible nature of Hydra’s ECM, 4) the relationship of the biogenesis of Hydra ECM to regeneration of body form, and 5) the functional role of Hydra ECM during pattern formation and cell differentiation.


Hydra, extracellular matrix, ECM biogenesis, laminin, collagen, morphogenesis, development

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