Postembryonic epigenesis of Vasa-positive germ cells from aggregated hemoblasts in the colonial ascidian, Botryllus primigenus


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We investigated whether Vasa was a germline-specific marker in the colonial ascidian Botryllus primigenus, and whether it was inducible epigenetically in the adult life span. We cloned a Botryllus Vasa homologue (BpVas). The deduced open reading frame encoded 687 amino acid residues. It was expressed specifically by germline cells such as the loose cell mass, oogonia and juvenile oocytes in the ovary, and the primordial testis (compact cell mass), spermatogonia and juvenile spermatocytes in the testis. The loose cell mass, the most primitive germline cells, showed an ultrastructure of undifferentiated cells known as hemoblasts. The hemoblasts did not contain electron-dense materials or a mitochondrial assembly in the cytoplasm. These organelles appeared later in the oogonia and oocytes. When the loose cell mass and developing germ cells were eliminated by extirpating all zooids and buds from the colonies, BpVas transcripts disappeared completely from the vascularized colonies. After 14 days, when the colonies regenerated by vascular budding, BpVas-positive cells reappeared in some cases, and in 30 day colonies, BpVas-positive germ cells were observed in all the regenerated colonies. These results show that in B. primigenus, germ cells are inducible de novo from the Vasa-negative cells even at postembryonic stages.