Smooth muscle relaxation in vertebrates is regulated by a variety of neuronal signalling molecules, including neuropeptides and nitric oxide (NO). The physiology of muscle relaxation in echinoderms is of particular interest because these animals are evolutionarily more closely related to the vertebrates than to the majority of invertebrate phyla. However, whilst in vertebrates there is a clear structural and functional distinction between visceral smooth muscle and skeletal striated muscle, this does not apply to echinoderms, in which the majority of muscles, whether associated with the body wall skeleton and its appendages or with visceral organs, are made up of non-striated fibres. The mechanisms by which the nervous system controls muscle relaxation in echinoderms were, until recently, unknown. Using the cardiac stomach of the starfish Asterias rubens as a model, it has been established that the NO-cGMP signalling pathway mediates relaxation. NO also causes relaxation of sea urchin tube feet, and NO may therefore function as a ‘universal’ muscle relaxant in echinoderms. The first neuropeptides to be identified in echinoderms were two related peptides isolated from Asterias rubens known as SALMFamide-1 (S1) and SALMFamide-2 (S2). Both S1 and S2 cause relaxation of the starfish cardiac stomach, but with S2 being approximately ten times more potent than S1. SALMFamide neuropeptides have also been isolated from sea cucumbers, in which they cause relaxation of both gut and body wall muscle. Therefore, like NO, SALMFamides may also function as ‘universal’ muscle relaxants in echinoderms. The mechanisms by which SALMFamides cause relaxation of echinoderm muscle are not known, but several candidate signal transduction pathways are discussed here. The SALMFamides do not, however, appear to act by promoting release of NO, and muscle relaxation in echinoderms is therefore probably regulated by at least two neuronal signalling systems acting in parallel. Recently, other neuropeptides that influence muscle tone have been isolated from the sea cucumber Stichopus japonicus using body wall muscle as a bioassay, but at present SALMFamide peptides are the only ones that have been found to have a direct relaxing action on echinoderm muscle. One of the Stichopus japonicus peptides (holothurin 1), however, causes a reduction in the magnitude of electrically evoked muscle contraction in Stichopus japonicus and also causes ‘softening’ of the body wall dermis, a ‘mutable connective tissue’. It seems most likely that this effect of holothurin 1 on body wall dermis is mediated by constituent muscle cells, and the concept of ‘mutable connective tissue’ in echinoderms may therefore need to be re-evaluated to incorporate the involvement of muscle, as proposed recently for the spine ligament in sea urchins.
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JOURNAL ARTICLE| 01 March 2001
Neural control of muscle relaxation in echinoderms
Online Issn: 1477-9145
Print Issn: 0022-0949
© 2001 by Company of Biologists
J Exp Biol (2001) 204 (5): 875–885.
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M.R. Elphick, R. Melarange; Neural control of muscle relaxation in echinoderms. J Exp Biol 1 March 2001; 204 (5): 875–885. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.204.5.875
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