Pheromones are chemicals used to communicate between animals of the same species, and are thought to be used by most marine animals. With limited vision, abalone primarily sense their world chemically, and pheromones may play an important role in settlement, attraction, recognition, alarm, and reproduction. Despite this, there has been no detailed investigation into pheromone substances, both in their precise biochemical nature or pheromonal function. In this study, we investigated the presence of pheromonelike substances from the hypobranchial gland of the abalone Haliotis asinina using bioassays, immunohistochemistry, Western blotting, and reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC). The hypobranchial gland of many prosobranchial marine molluscs has been classified as a sex auxiliary gland releasing unknown substances during spawning. In our study, cephalic tentacle assays demonstrated that the cell extracts of the hypobranchial gland contain chemical cues that are sensed by conspecifics. An antibody against the sea slug “attractin” pheromone was used as a probe to localize a similar protein in the mucin-secreting cells of the epithelial lining the hypobranchial gland of both male and female abalone. The approximate molecular weight of this abalone attractin-like protein is 30 kDa in both males and females. Fractionation of hypobranchial gland extracts by C5 RP-HPLC could not selectively purify this protein, and no sex-specific differences were observed. We predict that the attractin-like protein could be one of a number of important proteins involved in maturation, aggregation, and/or spawning behavior of abalone. In future research, additional hypobranchial gland components will be tested further for these types of behavior.
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Vol. 29 • No. 3