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Development. 2004 Aug;131(16):4047-58. Epub 2004 Jul 21.

Gene expression profiles of transcription factors and signaling molecules in the ascidian embryo: towards a comprehensive understanding of gene networks.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, 606-8502, Japan.


Achieving a real understanding of animal development obviously requires a comprehensive rather than partial identification of the genes working in each developmental process. Recent decoding of genome sequences will enable us to perform such studies. An ascidian, Ciona intestinalis, one of the animals whose genome has been sequenced, is a chordate sharing a basic body plan with vertebrates, although its genome contains less paralogs than are usually seen in vertebrates. In the present study, we discuss the genomewide approach to networks of developmental genes in Ciona embryos. We focus on transcription factor genes and some major groups of signal transduction genes. These genes are comprehensively listed and examined with regard to their embryonic expression by in situ hybridization ( The results revealed that 74% of the transcription factor genes are expressed maternally and that 56% of the genes are zygotically expressed during embryogenesis. Of these, 34% of the transcription factor genes are expressed both maternally and zygotically. The number of zygotically expressed transcription factor genes increases gradually during embryogenesis. As an example, and taking advantage of this comprehensive description of gene expression profiles, we identified transcription factor genes and signal transduction genes that are expressed at the early gastrula stage and that work downstream of beta-catenin, FoxD and/or Fgf9/16/20. Because these three genes are essential for ascidian endomesoderm specification, transcription factor genes and signal transduction genes involved in each of the downstream processes can be deduced comprehensively using the present approach.

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