Aluminum-dependent regulation of intracellular silicon in the aquatic invertebrate Lymnaea stagnalis
Silicon is essential for some plants, diatoms, and sponges but, in higher animals, its endogenous regulation has not been demonstrated. Silicate ions may be natural ligands for aluminum and here we show that, in the freshwater snail (Lymnaea stagnalis), intracellular silicon seems specifically up-regulated in response to sublethal aluminum exposure. X-ray microanalysis showed that exposure of snails to low levels of aluminum led to its accumulation in lysosomal granules, accompanied by marked up-regulation of silicon. Increased lysosomal levels of silicon were a specific response to aluminum because cadmium and zinc had no such effect. Furthermore, intra-lysosomal sulfur from metallothionein and other sulfur-containing ligands was increased after exposure to cadmium and zinc but not aluminum. To ensure that these findings indicated a specific in vivo response, and not ex vivo formation of hydroxy-aluminosilicates (HAS) from added aluminum (555 μg/liter) and water-borne silicon (43 μg/liter), two further studies were undertaken. In a ligand competition assay the lability of aluminum (527 μg/liter) was completely unaffected by the presence of silicon (46 μg/liter), suggesting the absence of HAS. In addition, exogenous silicon (6.5 mg/liter), added to the water column to promote formation of HAS, caused a decrease in lysosomal aluminum accumulation, showing that uptake of HAS would not explain the loading of aluminum into lysosomal granules. These findings, and arguments on the stability, lability, and kinetics of aluminum-silicate interactions, suggest that a silicon-specific mechanism exists for the in vivo detoxification of aluminum, which provides regulatory evidence of silicon in a multicellular organism.