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Cnidarians, in general, are long-lived organisms and hence may repeatedly encounter common pathogens during their lifespans. It remains unknown whether these early diverging animals possess some type of immunological reaction that strengthens the defense response upon repeated infections, such as that described in more evolutionary derived organisms. Here we show results that sea anemones that had previously encountered a pathogen under sub-lethal conditions had a higher survivorship during a subsequently lethal challenge than naive anemones that encountered the pathogen for the first time. Anemones subjected to the lethal challenge two and four weeks after the sub-lethal exposure presented seven- and five-fold increases in survival, respectively, compared to the naive anemones. However, anemones challenged six weeks after the sub-lethal exposure showed no increase in survivorship. We argue that this short-lasting priming of the defense response could be ecologically relevant if pathogen encounters are restricted to short seasons characterized by high stress. Furthermore, we discovered significant changes in proteomic profiles between naive sea anemones and those primed after pathogen exposure suggesting a clear molecular signature associated with immunological priming in cnidarians. Our findings reveal that immunological priming may have evolved much earlier in the tree of life than previously thought.


Originally published in Scientific Reports.

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