Evisceration in the dendrochirotid sea cucumber Eupentacta quinquesemita is a whole-body response involving a predictable series of events including muscle contraction and failure of three autotomy structures: (i) the introvert, the dexterous anterior extensible portion of the body wall, (ii) the tendon linking the pharyngeal retractor muscle to the longitudinal body wall muscle and (iii) the intestine-cloacal junction. The autotomy structures are histologically complex, consisting of muscle, nervous and connective tissue. Autotomy resulted from complete loss in the tensility of the connective tissue ground substance. Separation of the autotomy structures was facilitated by muscle contraction. The cell and tissue changes involved with autotomy were documented by microscopic examination of autotomising tissue. Change in the autotomy structures appears to initiate from the peritoneal side with delamination of the peritoneum followed by a wave of disruption as the connective tissue is infiltrated by coelomic fluid. Evisceration and autotomy in E. quinquesemita are neurally controlled, so particular attention was paid to the fate of neuronal elements. Neurosecretory-like processes containing large dense vesicles and axons were present in the connective tissue layers of the autotomy structures in association with extracellular matrix, muscles and neurons. These neuronal elements remained largely intact during autotomy and did not appear to be a source of factors that effect connective tissue change. They may, however, be involved in muscle activity. Holothuroid autotomy structures are completely or partially bathed in coelomic fluid, so there is potential for hormonal or neurosecretory activity using the coelomic fluid as a conduit. Connective tissue change during evisceration appears to be effected or mediated by an evisceration factor present in coelomic fluid that has a direct transmitter-like or neurosecretory-like mode of operation. The final outcome, expulsion of the viscera, is likely to result from a suite of factors that interact in a manner yet to be determined.

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