Imaging intracellular pH in a reef coral and symbiotic anemone

The challenges corals and symbiotic cnidarians face from global environmental change brings new urgency to understanding fundamental elements of their physiology. Intracellular pH (pHi) influences almost all aspects of cellular physiology but has never been described in anthozoans or symbiotic cnidarians, despite its pivotal role in carbon concentration for photosynthesis and calcification. Using confocal microscopy and the pH sensitive probe carboxy SNARF-1, we mapped pHi in short-term light and dark-incubated cells of the reef coral Stylophora pistillata and the symbiotic anemone Anemonia viridis. In all cells isolated from both species, pHi was markedly lower than the surrounding seawater pH of 8.1. In cells that contained symbiotic algae, mean values of pHi were significantly higher in light treated cells than dark treated cells (7.41 ± 0.22 versus 7.13 ± 0.24 for S. pistillata; and 7.29 ± 0.15 versus 7.01 ± 0.27 for A. viridis). In contrast, there was no significant difference in pHi in light and dark treated cells without algal symbionts. Close inspection of the interface between host cytoplasm and algal symbionts revealed a distinct area of lower pH adjacent to the symbionts in both light and dark treated cells, possibly associated with the symbiosome membrane complex. These findings are significant developments for the elucidation of models of inorganic carbon transport for photosynthesis and calcification and also provide a cell imaging procedure for future investigations into how pHi and other fundamental intracellular parameters in corals respond to changes in the external environment such as reductions in seawater pH.

Venn, A. A. Tambutté, E., Lotto, S., Zoccola, D., Allemand, D., & Tambutté, S., 2009. Imaging intracellular pH in a reef coral and symbiotic anemone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(39): 16574-16579. Article (subscription required).

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