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Development. 1998 Mar;125(5):899-907.

The hsp70 protein is involved in the acquisition of gamete self-sterility in the ascidian Ciona intestinalis.

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Laboratory of Cell Biology, Stazione Zoologica 'A. Dohrn', Naples, Italy.


In the hermaphrodite ascidian Ciona intestinalis, gamete self-incompatibility is a mechanism that prevents self-fertilization and is based on the ability of the oocyte vitelline coat to distinguish and accept only heterologous spermatozoa. The onset of self-sterility occurs during oogenesis and involves or is controlled by the follicle cells. Gamete self-nonself discrimination, a process that can be likened to an immune recognition event, represents a useful model with which to study the evolution of self-nonself recognition. Hsp70 genes, which belong to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class III, are supposedly ancestors of the MHC class I and II genes, and chaperonins are known to be involved in antigen processing and presentation. We have isolated and characterized an hsp70 gene (Cihsp70) that is constitutively expressed during oogenesis in the follicle cells of previtellogenic and vitellogenic oocytes. Using a polyclonal antibody against Cihsp70 protein, we demonstrate that the expression of Cihsp70 is required for the switch from self-fertility to self-sterility. The functional involvement of Cihsp70 in gamete self-nonself recognition provides evidence for an ancestral MHC-like system in protochordates.

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