Does concentrating chemical defenses within specific regions of marine sponges result in enhanced protection from predators?
The major secondary metabolites of the sponge Aplysina aerophoba are brominated compounds. X-ray energy dispersive microanalysis was therefore used to locate secondary metabolites via the Br signal in energy emission spectra from sponge sections. To test the reliability of this method in the face of the loss or redistribution of metabolites during processing, we compared the results obtained by conventional aldehyde fixation with those obtained by cryofixation and cryosubstitution with and without cryoembedding. Bromine appeared to be concentrated in two sponge structures, viz. fibres and spherulous cells, when cryofixed material was examined. However, X-ray microanalysis failed to demonstrate the presence of bromine in spherulous cells in chemically fixed samples, showing the need for cryotechniques to avoid the loss of compounds. Cryofixation plus cryosubstitution methods performed best regarding structural preservation and the immobilization of metabolites. The presence of bromine in the spherulous cells suggests that this cell type is the producer of the secondary metabolites, as described for other sponge species. Nevertheless, the presence of bromine in sponge fibres indicates that they can accumulate metabolic substances, although we have been unable to assess whether the chemicals are in their original form or in a modified state within the fibres. A. aerophoba has both bacterial and cyanobacterial symbionts in its mesohyl; the absence of brominated compounds in them contrasts with previous findings in other sponges with prokaryote symbionts.