Intracellular composition and the distribution of bio-molecules play central roles in the specification of cell fates and morphogenesis during embryogenesis. Consequently, investigation of changes in the expression and distribution of bio-molecules, especially mRNAs and proteins, is an important challenge in developmental biology. Raman spectroscopic imaging, a non-invasive and label-free technique, allows simultaneous imaging of the intracellular composition and distribution of multiple bio-molecules. In this study, we explored the application of Raman spectroscopic imaging in the whole Ciona intestinalis embryo during development. Analysis of Raman spectra scattered from C. intestinalis embryos revealed a number of localized patterns of high Raman intensity within the embryo. Based on the observed distribution of bio-molecules, we succeeded in identifying the location and structure of differentiated muscle and endoderm within the whole embryo, up to the tailbud stage, in a label-free manner. Furthermore, during cell differentiation, we detected significant differences in cell state between muscle/endoderm daughter cells and daughter cells with other fates that had divided from the same mother cells; this was achieved by focusing on the Raman intensity of single Raman bands at 1002 or 1526 cm-1, respectively. This study reports the first application of Raman spectroscopic imaging to the study of identifying and characterizing differentiating tissues in a whole chordate embryo. Our results suggest that Raman spectroscopic imaging is a feasible label-free technique for investigating the developmental process of the whole embryo of C. intestinalis.
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