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Dev Biol. 2009 Aug 1;332(1):48-60. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.05.540. Epub 2009 May 8.

Unfolding a chordate developmental program, one cell at a time: invariant cell lineages, short-range inductions and evolutionary plasticity in ascidians.

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  • 1IBDML, UMR6216, CNRS-Université de la Méditerranée, Case 907, Campus de Luminy, F-13288 Marseille cedex9, France.


Ascidians were historically the first metazoans in which experimental embryology was carried out. These early works by Chabry and Conklin [Chabry, L., 1887. Embryologie normale et tératologique des Ascidie. Felix Alcan Editeur, Paris; Conklin, E., 1905. The organization and cell lineage of the ascidian egg. J. Acad., Nat. Sci. Phila. 13, 1], in particular, led to the idea that the developmental program of these animals was driven by the cell-autonomous inheritance of localised maternal determinants, rendered precise by the stereotyped pattern of invariant cell cleavages. Work in the past 20 years indeed identified several localised maternal determinants of the position of cleavage planes or of some early cell fates. The overwhelming majority of cells in the three germ layers, however, do not follow a cell-autonomous differentiation program. Instead, they respond to short-range signals, as described in this review. Careful analysis of cell-cell contacts suggests that a major function of the invariant position of cleavage plans, besides segregating competence factors, is to control the relative positions of inducing cells and those competent to respond. Surprisingly, while the cell lineage is very well conserved between the divergent species Halocynthia roretzi and Ciona intestinalis, the molecular nature of inducing signals can vary. The constraints on embryo anatomy thus appear stronger than those on the choice of individual regulatory molecules.

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