Previous work showed that ctenophore larvae swim backwards in high-KCl seawater, due to a 180 degrees reversal in the direction of effective stroke of their ciliary comb plates (Tamm, S. L., and S. Tamm, 1981, J. Cell Biol., 89: 495-509). Ion substitution and blocking experiments indicated that this response is Ca2+ dependent, but comb plate cells are innervated and presumably under nervous control. To determine whether Ca2+ is directly involved in activating the ciliary reversal mechanism and/or is required for synaptic triggering of the response, we (a) determined the effects of ionophore A23187 and Ca2+ on the beat direction of isolated nerve-free comb plates dissociated from larvae by hypotonic, divalent cation-free medium, and (b) used permeabilized ATP-reactivated models of comb plates to test motile responses to known concentrations of free Ca2+. We found that 5 microM A23187 and 10 mM Ca2+ induced dissociated comb plate cells to beat in the reverse direction and to swim counterclockwise in circular paths instead of in the normal clockwise direction. Detergent/glycerol-extracted comb plates beat actively in the presence of ATP, and reactivation was reversibly inhibited by micromolar concentrations of vanadate. Free Ca2+ concentrations greater than 10(-6)M caused reversal in direction of the effective stroke but no significant increase in beat frequency. These results show that ciliary reversal in ctenophores, like that in protozoa, is activated by an increase in intracellular free Ca2+ ions. This allows the unique experimental advantages of ctenophore comb plate cilia to be used for future studies on the site and mechanism of action of Ca2+ in the regulation of ciliary motion.

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