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Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2006 Jul;144(3):254-71. Epub 2006 Jan 18.

Neuroendocrinology of protochordates: insights from Ciona genomics.

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Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., Canada V8W 3N5.


The genome for two species of Ciona is available making these tunicates excellent models for studies on the evolution of the chordates. In this review most of the data is from Ciona intestinalis, as the annotation of the C. savignyi genome is not yet available. The phylogenetic position of tunicates at the origin of the chordates and the nature of the genome before expansion in vertebrates allows tunicates to be used as a touchstone for understanding genes that either preceded or arose in vertebrates. A comparison of Ciona, a sea squirt, to other model organisms such as a nematode, fruit fly, zebrafish, frog, chicken and mouse shows that Ciona has many useful traits including accessibility for embryological, lineage tracing, forward genetics, and loss- or gain-of-function experiments. For neuroendocrine studies, these traits are important for determining gene function, whereas the availability of the genome is critical for identification of ligands, receptors, transcription factors and signaling pathways. Four major neurohormones and their receptors have been identified by cloning and to some extent by function in Ciona: gonadotropin-releasing hormone, insulin, insulin-like growth factor, and cionin, a member of the CCK/gastrin family. The simplicity of tunicates should be an advantage in searching for novel functions for these hormones. Other neuroendocrine components that have been annotated in the genome are a multitude of receptors, which are available for cloning, expression and functional studies.

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