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Involvement of l(–)-rhamnose in sea urchin gastrulation. Part II: α-l-Rhamnosidase

  • Jing Liang (a1), Heghush Aleksanyan (a1), Stan Metzenberg (a1) and Steven B. Oppenheimer (a2) (a1)


The sea urchin embryo is recognized as a model system to reveal developmental mechanisms involved in human health and disease. In Part I of this series, six carbohydrates were tested for their effects on gastrulation in embryos of the sea urchin Lytechinus pictus. Only l-rhamnose caused dramatic increases in the numbers of unattached archenterons and exogastrulated archenterons in living, swimming embryos. It was found that at 30 h post-fertilization the l-rhamnose had an unusual inverse dose-dependent effect, with low concentrations (1–3 mM) interfering with development and higher concentrations (30 mM) having little to no effect on normal development. In this study, embryos were examined for inhibition of archenteron development after treatment with α-l-rhamnosidase, an endoglycosidase that removes terminal l-rhamnose sugars from glycans. It was observed that the enzyme had profound effects on gastrulation, an effect that could be suppressed by addition of l-rhamnose as a competitive inhibitor. The involvement of l-rhamnose-containing glycans in sea urchin gastrulation was unexpected, since there are no characterized biosynthetic pathways for rhamnose utilization in animals. It is possible there exists a novel l-rhamnose-containing glycan in sea urchins, or that the enzyme and sugar interfere with the function of rhamnose-binding lectins, which are components of the innate immune system in many vertebrate and invertebrate species.


Corresponding author

All correspondence to Steven B. Oppenheimer, Department of Biology and Center for Cancer and Developmental Biology, California State University, Northridge. 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, California 91330–8303, USA. Tel: +1 818 677 3336. Fax: +1 818 677-2034. Email:


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