The larval ascidian brain (sensory vesicle) is located on the dorsal side of the trunk region and forms part of the anterior central nervous system. Sensory organs such as the otolith, ocellus, and hydrostatic-pressure organ reside in the brain. The brain coordinates the core roles of the larval nervous system. The brain is derived from anterior animal a-line blastomeres. The default fate of these blastomeres is epidermis, and the inductive signals from anterior vegetal blastomeres convert the fate into brain. It remains unclear, however, when these inductive interactions take place. To determine when, we examined whether partial embryos derived from brain-lineage blastomeres isolated at various stages express neural and epidermal marker genes. Partial embryos derived from brain-lineage blastomeres isolated after the 32-cell stage expressed all the neural marker genes examined. The expression of the epidermal marker gene was first reduced in partial embryos when blastomeres were isolated at the 64-cell stage. Moreover, the process for brain specification seemed to continue after the 110-cell stage. We also investigated the function of HrEts, an ascidian homolog of Ets transcription factors, to elucidate the molecular mechanism of brain induction. HrEts functions were inhibited by the use of antisense morpholino oligonucleotides. Loss of Ets functions resulted in loss of the expression of some of the neural marker genes and the ectopic expression of the epidermal marker gene in brain precursor cells. These results suggest that HrEts is an essential transcription factor that mediates ascidian brain induction.
ASJC Scopus subject areas