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Dev Biol. 2011 Dec 1;360(1):216-29. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.08.029. Epub 2011 Sep 9.

The maternal genes Ci-p53/p73-a and Ci-p53/p73-b regulate zygotic ZicL expression and notochord differentiation in Ciona intestinalis embryos.

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


I isolated a Ciona intestinalis homolog of p53, Ci-p53/p73-a, in a microarray screen of rapidly degraded maternal mRNA by comparing the transcriptomes of unfertilized eggs and 32-cell stage embryos. Higher expression of the gene in eggs and lower expression in later embryonic stages were confirmed by whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH) and quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (qRT-PCR); expression was ubiquitous in eggs and early embryos. Knockdown of Ci-p53/p73-a by injection of antisense morpholino oligonucleotides (MOs) severely perturbed gastrulation cell movements and expression of notochord marker genes. A key regulator of notochord differentiation in Ciona embryos is Brachyury (Ci-Bra), which is directly activated by a zic-like gene (Ci-ZicL). The expression of Ci-ZicL and Ci-Bra in A-line notochord precursors was downregulated in Ci-p53/p73-a knockdown embryos. Maternal expression of Ci-p53/p73-b, a homolog of Ci-p53/p73-a, was also detected. In Ci-p53/p73-b knockdown embryos, gastrulation cell movements, expression of Ci-ZicL and Ci-Bra in A-line notochord precursors, and expression of notochord marker gene at later stages were perturbed. The upstream region of Ci-ZicL contains putative p53-binding sites. Cis-regulatory analysis of Ci-ZicL showed that these sites are involved in expression of Ci-ZicL in A-line notochord precursors at the 32-cell and early gastrula stages. These results suggest that p53 genes are maternal factors that play a crucial role in A-line notochord differentiation in C. intestinalis embryos by regulating Ci-ZicL expression.

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