Key words Ascidians
Specific gene expression
Origin of chordates
Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract The most primitive chordates may have arisen with a shift to internal feeding through the use of the pharyngeal gill slits and endostyle for extracting suspended food from the water. Therefore, the pharyngeal gill and endostyle, in addition to notochord and nerve cord, are structures key to an understanding of the molecular developmental mechanisms underlying the origin and evolution of chordates. In this and a following study, isolation of cDNA clones for genes that are specifically expressed in the pharyngeal gill or endostyle in the ascidian Halocynthia roretzi was attempted. Differential screening of a pharyngeal gill cDNA library and an endostyle cDNA library with total pharyngeal-gill cDNA probes yielded cDNA clones for two pharyngeal gill-specific genes, HrPhG1 and HrPhG2. Northern blot analysis showed a 3.0-kb transcript of HrPhG1 and a 2.0-kb transcript of HrPhG2. Predicted amino acid sequences of the gene products suggested that both genes encode secretory proteins with no significant match to known proteins. In adults, both HrPhG1 and HrPhG2 genes were only expressed in the pharyngeal gill and not in other tissues including the endostyle, body-wall muscle, gonad, gut and digestive gland. HrPhG1 and HrPhG2 transcripts were undetectable in embryos and larvae, and were first detected in juveniles 3 days after initiation of metamorphosis. In situ hybridization revealed that the expression of HrPhG1 and HrPhG2 was restricted to differentiating pharyngeal-wall epithelium, with intense signals in the area surrounding the stigma or gill slit. These genes may serve as probes for further analyses of molecular mechanisms underlying the occurrence of pharyngeal gill and formation of gill slits during chordate evolution.
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