Recent evidence suggests that ascidian pigment cells are related to neural crest-derived melanocytes of vertebrates. Using live-imaging, we determine a revised cell lineage of the pigment cells in Ciona intestinalis embryos. The neural precursors undergo successive rounds of anterior-posterior (A-P) oriented cell divisions, starting at the blastula 64-cell stage. A previously unrecognized fourth A-P oriented cell division in the pigment cell lineage leads to the generation of the post-mitotic pigment cell precursors. We provide evidence that MEK/ERK signals are required for pigment cell specification until approximately 30min after the final cell division has taken place. Following each of the four A-P oriented cell divisions, ERK1/2 is differentially activated in the posterior sister cells, into which the pigment cell lineage segregates. Eph/ephrin signals are critical during the third A-P oriented cell division to spatially restrict ERK1/2 activation to the posterior daughter cell. Targeted inhibition of Eph/ephrin signals results in, at neurula stages, anterior expansion of both ERK1/2 activation and a pigment cell lineage marker and subsequently, at larval stages, supernumerary pigment cells. We discuss the implications of these findings with respect to the evolution of the vertebrate neural crest.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Developmental Biology
- Cell Biology