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Open Access Research article

Insights into the innate immunity of the Mediterranean mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis

Paola Venier1*, Laura Varotto1, Umberto Rosani1, Caterina Millino2, Barbara Celegato2, Filippo Bernante2, Gerolamo Lanfranchi12, Beatriz Novoa3, Philippe Roch4, Antonio Figueras3 and Alberto Pallavicini5*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, University of Padova, Via U. Bassi, 58/B, 35121, Padova, Italy

2 C.R.I.B.I. Biotechnology Centre, University of Padova, Via U. Bassi, 58/B, 35121, Padova, Italy

3 Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas, CSIC, C/Eduardo Cabello, 6, E-36208 Vigo, Spain

4 Ecosystèmes Lagunaires UMR CNRS-University of Montpellier 2, cc093, place E. Bataillon, F-34095 Montpellier cedex 05, France

5 Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, P.le Valmaura, 9, 34148 Trieste, Italy

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:69  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-69

Published: 26 January 2011



Sessile bivalves of the genus Mytilus are suspension feeders relatively tolerant to a wide range of environmental changes, used as sentinels in ecotoxicological investigations and marketed worldwide as seafood. Mortality events caused by infective agents and parasites apparently occur less in mussels than in other bivalves but the molecular basis of such evidence is unknown. The arrangement of Mytibase, interactive catalogue of 7,112 transcripts of M. galloprovincialis, offered us the opportunity to look for gene sequences relevant to the host defences, in particular the innate immunity related genes.


We have explored and described the Mytibase sequence clusters and singletons having a putative role in recognition, intracellular signalling, and neutralization of potential pathogens in M. galloprovincialis. Automatically assisted searches of protein signatures and manually cured sequence analysis confirmed the molecular diversity of recognition/effector molecules such as the antimicrobial peptides and many carbohydrate binding proteins. Molecular motifs identifying complement C1q, C-type lectins and fibrinogen-like transcripts emerged as the most abundant in the Mytibase collection whereas, conversely, sequence motifs denoting the regulatory cytokine MIF and cytokine-related transcripts represent singular and unexpected findings. Using a cross-search strategy, 1,820 putatively immune-related sequences were selected to design oligonucleotide probes and define a species-specific Immunochip (DNA microarray). The Immunochip performance was tested with hemolymph RNAs from mussels injected with Vibrio splendidus at 3 and 48 hours post-treatment. A total of 143 and 262 differentially expressed genes exemplify the early and late hemocyte response of the Vibrio-challenged mussels, respectively, with AMP trends confirmed by qPCR and clear modulation of interrelated signalling pathways.


The Mytibase collection is rich in gene transcripts modulated in response to antigenic stimuli and represents an interesting window for looking at the mussel immunome (transcriptomes mediating the mussel response to non-self or abnormal antigens). On this basis, we have defined a new microarray platform, a mussel Immunochip, as a flexible tool for the experimental validation of immune-candidate sequences, and tested its performance on Vibrio-activated mussel hemocytes. The microarray platform and related expression data can be regarded as a step forward in the study of the adaptive response of the Mytilus species to an evolving microbial world.