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Development. 2010 May;137(9):1505-13. doi: 10.1242/dev.046938. Epub 2010 Mar 24.

Limited functions of Hox genes in the larval development of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Hachioji, Tokyo 192-0397, Japan.


In animals, region specific morphological characters along the anteroposterior axis are controlled by a number of developmental genes, including Hox genes encoding homeodomain transcription factors. Although Hox genes have been regarded to play a key role in the evolution of morphological diversity, as well as in the establishment of the body plan, little is known about the function of Hox genes in invertebrates, except for in insects and nematodes. The present study addresses the role of Hox genes in body patterning during the larval development of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis conducting knockdown experiments of the seven Hox genes expressed during embryogenesis. Experimental results have demonstrated that Ci-Hox12 plays an important role in tail development through the maintenance of expression of Ci-Fgf8/17/18 and Ci-Wnt5 in the tail tip epidermis. Additionally, it has been shown that Ci-Hox10 is involved in the development of GABAergic neurons in the dorsal visceral ganglion. Surprisingly, knockdown of Ci-Hox1, Ci-Hox2, Ci-Hox3, Ci-Hox4 and Ci-Hox5 did not give rise to any consistent morphological defects in the larvae. Furthermore, expression of neuronal marker genes was not affected in larvae injected with MOs against Ci-Hox1, Ci-Hox3 or Ci-Hox5. In conclusion, we suggest that the contribution of Hox genes to the larval development of the ascidian C. intestinalis might be limited, despite the fact that Ci-Hox10 and Ci-Hox12 play important roles in neuronal and tail development.

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