Corals use similar immune cells and wound-healing processes as those of higher organisms

Caroline V. Palmer, Nikki G. Traylor-Knowles, Bette L. Willis, John C. Bythell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Sessile animals, like corals, frequently suffer physical injury from a variety of sources, thus wound-healing mechanisms that restore tissue integrity and prevent infection are vitally important for defence. Despite the ecological importance of reef-building corals, little is known about the cells and processes involved in wound healing in this group or in phylogenetically basal metazoans in general. A histological investigation into wound healing of the scleractinian coral Porites cylindrica at 0 h, 6 h, 24 h and 48 h after injury revealed differences in cellular components between injured and healthy tissues. Cell counts of the obligate endosymbiont, Symbiodinium, and melanin volume fraction analysis revealed rapid declines in both Symbiodinium abundance and tissue cross-sectional area occupied by melanin-containing granular cells after injury. Four phases of wound healing were identified, which are similar to phases described for both vertebrates and invertebrates. The four phases included (i) plug formation via the degranulation of melanin-containing granular cells; (ii) immune cell infiltration (inflammation); (iii) granular tissue formation (proliferation); and (iv) maturation. This study provides detailed documentation of the processes involved in scleractinian wound healing for the first time and further elucidates the roles of previously-described immune cells, such as fibroblasts. These results demonstrate the conservation of wound healing processes from anthozoans to humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23992
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 24 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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