Limulus (horseshoe crab) hemolymph is known to be very sensitive to bacterial endotoxin (LPS), which causes a rapid coagulation response. Hemolymph contains a single type of hemocyte that undergoes aggregation, adhesion, and degranulation in response to LPS. The granule contents are released into the hemolymph, where they form an insoluble gel. We have characterized four components involved in this coagulation response that comprise a cascade of three serine protease zymogens (factor C, factor B, and proclotting enzyme) and one clottable protein (coagulogen). Of these components, factor C sensitive to LPS is a protein composed of five complement-related domains ("Sushi" or SCR), an EGF-like domain, and a C-type lectinlike domain as well as a putative amino-terminal LPS-binding domain. This domain structure is very similar to that of selectin family of cell adhesion molecules, suggesting that it might also function as a cell adhesion molecule after the release into the hemolymph. Factor B and the proclotting enzyme share a common Cys-rich motif ("cliplike" domain) in the amino-terminal portions. This domain is also found in a putative serine protease zymogen ("easter") in Drosophila, which is essential for normal embryonic development. All four of the components of the cascade and an antibacterial protein (anti-LPS factor) are localized to a specific type of the hemocyte granule. Another antibacterial peptide (tachyplesins I and II) is localized in a distinct granule population. The contents of both granule populations are released into the hemolymph in response to LPS, where they cooperate in immobilization and killing of Gram-negative bacteria.
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