Piwi-expressing hemoblasts serve as germline stem cells during postembryonic germ cell specification in colonial ascidian, Botryllus primigenus


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Email: suna@kochi-u.ac.jp


Animals that propagate asexually are exciting models to investigate the cellular system, which produces germline cells constitutively throughout life. The present research investigated whether piwi was a germline-specific marker in the colonial ascidian Botryllus primigenus. An approximately 2.8 kb long cDNA fragment was cloned and termed BpPiwi, since the obtained amino acid sequence (874 aa) contained PAZ and PIWI domains. BpPiwi was expressed specifically by germline cells such as the loose cell mass (germline precursor cells), oocytes, spermatogonia, and spermatocytes. In addition, BpPiwi transcripts were also detected in some coelomic cells in the hemocoel and tunic vessels. BpPiwi+ coelomic cells possessed similar morphological features to hemoblasts (stem cells). The concentration of BpPiwi+ cells was found to be significantly lower than that obtained for hemoblasts suggesting that BpPiwi+ cells comprise a fraction of hemoblasts. Further, the ability of BpPiwi+ cells to serve as somatic stem cells was examined. No BpPiwi signals were detected from somatic hemoblasts forming vascular buds. The genetic knockdown of BpPiwi induced by siRNA injection resulted in the formation of a defective germline precursor. These results suggest that BpPiwi+ hemoblasts reside in the hemocoel and tunic vessels and function as germline stem cells in the postembryonic colony. Based on the findings of the characterization of three effective germline genes piwi, vasa, and nanos, we propose that germline stem cells reside as BpPiwi+/BpVas/BpNos+ hemoblasts in B. primigenus.