Int. J. Dev. Biol. 42: 1093 - 1100 (1998)
© UPV/EHU Press

Characterization of an ascidian maternal T-box gene, As-mT.

N Takada, K Tagawa, H Takahashi and N Satoh

Department of Zoology, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Japan.

ABSTRACT The T-box genes encode a novel family of transcriptional factors that seem to play crucial roles in various processes of animal development, in particular, mesoderm formation of chordate embryos. The ascidian egg has been regarded as a typical mosaic egg, in which several types of embryonic cells are specified autonomously dependent on prelocalized maternal factors or determinants. In the present study, we investigated a possible role of a maternal T-box gene (As-mT) of the ascidian Halocynthia roretzi. A cDNA clone we obtained predicted As-mT protein of 891 amino acids with a distinct T-domain, which was divergent from those of other T-box genes. Expression of As-mT was exclusively maternal. Although the transcript became barely detectable by the gastrula stage, no zygotic expression was evident during embryogenesis. The maternal transcript was distributed rather evenly within eggs and early embryos without any special localization. Injection of synthetic As-mT mRNA into fertilized eggs induced retardation of embryogenesis. Although cleavage occurred normally, the initiation of gastrulation was delayed, and delay in the morphogenesis resulted in dumpy larvae. Expression of a muscle-specific actin gene, a notochord-specific Brachyury gene, and an epidermis-specific gene was not detected at the early gastrula stage, all of the three genes being expressed in normal embryos at that stage. However, the expression of these genes as well as a mesenchyme-specific gene and histochemical activity of endoderm-specific alkaline phosphatase were evident by the mid-tailbud stage.