Embryonic versus blastogenetic development in the compound ascidian Botryllus schlosseri: Insights from Pitx expression patterns



The colonial ascidians reproduce either sexually or asexually, having evolved a rich variety of modes of propagative development. During embryogenesis, the fertilized egg develops into a swimming tadpole larva that subsequently metamorphoses into a sessile oozooid. Clonal individuals (blastozooids), resembling oozooids, are formed from few bud-forming multipotent somatic cells, following a wide range of ways that seem to characterize each family of this class. Here, we compare these two developmental processes in the compound ascidian species Botryllus schlosseri to determine whether similar gene activities are used during embryogenesis/metamorphosis and recruited in the asexual development. We analyzed expression of Pitx, a Paired-related homeobox gene. Pitx genes are key developmental genes in vertebrates, and their expression is reported to be conserved in chordate stomodea and in the establishment of left/right asymmetries. Here, we report full-length cDNA cloning of a B. schlosseri Pitx ortholog (Bs-Pitx) and expression analysis during both embryo/metamorphosis and blastogenesis. During organogenesis of both developmental sequences, Bs-Pitx was detected in identical domains: the stomodeum/neural complex and asymmetrically in the left digestive system. In striking contrast, expression patterns at early stages differ deeply. These observations provide the first evidence for a key developmental gene being deployed in essentially similar ways in two different developmental sequences that eventually give rise to similar zooids. Developmental Dynamics 232:468–478, 2005. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.