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Dev Biol. 2004 Oct 1;274(1):211-24.

Three distinct lineages of mesenchymal cells in Ciona intestinalis embryos demonstrated by specific gene expression.

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


The ascidian embryonic mesenchyme, comprising about 900 cells, forms mesodermal tissues or organs of the adult body after metamorphosis. The mesenchyme originates from the A7.6 [trunk lateral cells (TLCs)], B7.7, and B8.5 blastomeres of the 110-cell stage embryo. Previous studies showed that FGF9/16/20 is required for specification of the mesenchyme in Ciona embryos and that two different (A7.6 and B8.5/B7.7) but partially overlapping molecular mechanisms are associated with the expression of a basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor gene, Twist-like1, in the mesenchymal precursors, which triggers the differentiation process of mesenchyme cells. In the present study, we examined whether the three embryonic lineages express the same mesenchyme-specific structural genes under the control of a common mechanism or whether the three lineages are characterized by the expression of genes specific to each of the lineages. We characterized nine mesenchyme-specific genes in Ciona embryos and found that five were expressed in A7.6/B8.5/B7.7, two in B8.5/B7.7, and two in B7.7 only. FGF9/16/20 and Twist-like1 were required for the expression of all the mesenchyme-specific genes, except for three A7.6/B8.5/B7.7-specific genes in A7.6 progenitors. Overexpression of FGF9/16/20 or Twist-like1 upregulated the expression of A7.6/B8.5/B7.7- and B8.5/B7.7-specific genes, while it downregulated the expression of B7.7-specific genes. These results provide evidence that the differentiation of each of the three mesenchyme lineages of Ciona embryos is characterized by the expression of a specific set of genes, whose expression is controlled differentially.

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