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Mol Reprod Dev. 2011 Oct-Nov;78(10-11):854-60. doi: 10.1002/mrd.21316. Epub 2011 Apr 25.

Ion currents involved in oocyte maturation, fertilization and early developmental stages of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis.

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Animal Physiology and Evolution Laboratory, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Naples, Italy.


Electrophysiological techniques were used to study the role of ion currents in the ascidian Ciona intestinalis oocyte plasma membrane during different stages of growth, meiosis, fertilization and early development. Three stages of immature oocytes were discriminated in the ovary, with the germinal vesicle showing specific different features of growth and maturation. Stage-A (pre-vitellogenic) oocytes exhibited the highest L-type calcium current activity and were incompetent for meiosis resumption. Stage-B (vitellogenic) oocytes showed a progressive disappearance of calcium currents and the first appearance of sodium currents that remained high during the maturation process, up to the post-vitellogenic stage-C oocytes. The latter had acquired meiotic competence, undergoing spontaneous in vitro maturation and interacting with the spermatozoon. However, fertilized oocytes did not produce normal larvae, suggesting that cytoplasmic maturation may affect embryo development. In mature oocytes at the metaphase I stage, sodium currents were present and remained high up to the zygote stage. Oocytes fertilized in the absence of sodium showed significant reduction of the fertilization current amplitude and high development of anomalous "rosette" embryos. Current amplitudes became negligible in embryos at the 2- and 4-cell stage, whereas resumption of all the current activities occurred at the 8-cell embryo. Taken together, these results suggest: (i) an involvement of L-type calcium currents in initial oocyte meiotic progression and growth; (ii) a role of sodium currents at fertilization; (iii) a role of the fertilization current in ensuring normal embryo development.

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