The CRISPR/Cas9 system has ushered in a new era of targeted genetic manipulations. Here, we report the use of CRISPR/Cas9 to induce double-stranded breaks in the genome of the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis. We use electroporation to deliver CRISPR/Cas9 components for tissue-specific disruption of the Ebf (Collier/Olf/EBF) gene in hundreds of synchronized Ciona embryos. Phenotyping of transfected embryos in the 'F0' generation revealed that endogenous Ebf function is required for specification of Islet-expressing motor ganglion neurons and atrial siphon muscles. We demonstrate that CRISPR/Cas9 is sufficiently effective and specific to generate large numbers of embryos carrying mutations in a targeted gene of interest, which should allow for rapid screening of gene function in Ciona.
During the development of the central nervous system (CNS), combinations of transcription factors and signalling molecules orchestrate patterning, specification and differentiation of neural cell types. In vertebrates, three types of melanin-containing pigment cells, exert a variety of functional roles including visual perception. Here we analysed the mechanisms underlying pigment cell specification within the CNS of a simple chordate, the ascidian Ciona intestinalis. Ciona tadpole larvae exhibit a basic chordate body plan characterized by a small number of neural cells. We employed lineage-specific transcription profiling to characterize the expression of genes downstream of fibroblast growth factor signalling, which govern pigment cell formation. We demonstrate that FGF signalling sequentially imposes a pigment cell identity at the expense of anterior neural fates. We identify FGF-dependent and pigment cell-specific factors, including the small GTPase, Rab32/38 and demonstrated its requirement for the pigmentation of larval sensory organs.
Ascidians present a striking dichotomy between conserved phenotypes and divergent genomes: embryonic cell lineages and gene expression patterns are conserved between distantly related species. Much research has focused on Ciona or Halocynthia spp. but development in other ascidians remains poorly characterized. In this study, we surveyed the multipotent myogenic B7.5 lineage in Molgula spp. Comparisons to the homologous lineage in Ciona revealed identical cell division and fate specification events that result in segregation of larval, cardiac, and pharyngeal muscle progenitors. Moreover, the expression patterns of key regulators are conserved, but cross-species transgenic assays uncovered incompatibility, or 'unintelligibility', of orthologous cis-regulatory sequences between Molgula and Ciona. These sequences drive identical expression patterns that are not recapitulated in cross-species assays. We show that this unintelligibility is likely due to changes in both cis- and trans-acting elements, hinting at widespread and frequent turnover of regulatory mechanisms underlying otherwise conserved aspects of ascidian embryogenesis.
In vertebrates, pluripotent pharyngeal mesoderm progenitors produce the cardiac precursors of the second heart field as well as the branchiomeric head muscles and associated stem cells. However, the mechanisms underlying the transition from multipotent progenitors to distinct muscle precursors remain obscured by the complexity of vertebrate embryos. Using Ciona intestinalis as a simple chordate model, we show that bipotent cardiopharyngeal progenitors are primed to activate both heart and pharyngeal muscle transcriptional programs, which progressively become restricted to corresponding precursors. The transcription factor COE (Collier/OLF/EBF) orchestrates the transition to pharyngeal muscle fate both by promoting an MRF-associated myogenic program in myoblasts and by maintaining an undifferentiated state in their sister cells through Notch-mediated lateral inhibition. The latter are stem cell-like muscle precursors that form most of the juvenile pharyngeal muscles. We discuss the implications of our findings for the development and evolution of the chordate cardiopharyngeal mesoderm.
The heart and head muscles share common developmental origins and genetic underpinnings in vertebrates, including humans. Parts of the heart and cranio-facial musculature derive from common mesodermal progenitors that express NKX2-5, ISL1, and TBX1. This ontogenetic kinship is dramatically reflected in the DiGeorge/Cardio-Velo-Facial syndrome (DGS/CVFS), where mutations of TBX1 cause malformations in the pharyngeal apparatus and cardiac outflow tract. Cardiac progenitors of the first heart field (FHF) do not require TBX1 and segregate precociously from common progenitors of the second heart field (SHF) and pharyngeal muscles. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern heart versus pharyngeal muscle specification within this lineage remain elusive. Here, we harness the simplicity of the ascidian larva to show that, following asymmetric cell division of common progenitors, NK4/NKX2-5 promotes GATAa/GATA4/5/6 expression and cardiac specification in the second heart precursors by antagonizing Tbx1/10-mediated inhibition of GATAa and activation of Collier/Olf/EBF (COE), the determinant of atrial siphon muscle (ASM) specification. Our results uncover essential regulatory connections between the conserved cardio-pharyngeal factor Tbx1/10 and muscle determinant COE, as well as a mutual antagonism between NK4 and Tbx1/10 activities upstream of GATAa and COE. The latter cross-antagonism underlies a fundamental heart versus pharyngeal muscle fate choice that occurs in a conserved lineage of cardio-pharyngeal progenitors. We propose that this basic ontogenetic motif underlies cardiac and pharyngeal muscle development and evolution in chordates.
How does a fertilized egg decode its own genome to eventually develop into a mature animal? Each developing cell must activate a battery of genes in a timely manner and according to the function it will ultimately perform, but how? During development of the notochord--a structure akin to the vertebrate spine--in a simple marine invertebrate, an essential protein called Brachyury binds to specific sites in its target genes. A study just published in PLOS Biology reports that if the target gene contains multiple Brachyury-binding sites it will be activated early in development but if it contains only one site it will be activated later. Genes that contain no binding site can still be activated by Brachyury, but only indirectly by an earlier Brachyury-dependent gene product, so later than the directly activated genes. Thus, this study shows how several genes can interpret the presence of a single factor differently to become active at distinct times in development.
ERK1/2 MAP kinase exhibits a highly dynamic activation pattern in developing embryos, which largely depends on fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signals. In ascidian embryos, FGF-dependent activation of ERK1/2 occurs differentially between sister cells during marginal zone and neural lineage patterning. Selective attenuation of FGF signals by localised ephrin/Eph signals accounts for this differential ERK activation, which controls the binary fate choice of each sibling cell pair. Here, we show that p120 Ras GTPase-activating protein (p120RasGAP) is a crucial mediator of these ephrin/Eph signals. First, inhibition of p120RasGAP has a similar effect to inhibition of ephrin/Eph function during marginal zone and neural patterning. Second, p120RasGAP acts epistatically to ephrin/Eph signals. Third, p120RasGAP physically associates with Eph3 in an ephrin-dependent manner. This study provides the first in vivo evidence that the functional association between Eph and RasGAP controls the spatial extent of FGF-activated ERK.
The vertebrate heart is formed from diverse embryonic territories, including the first and second heart fields. The second heart field (SHF) gives rise to the right ventricle and outflow tract, yet its evolutionary origins are unclear. We found that heart progenitor cells of the simple chordate Ciona intestinalis also generate precursors of the atrial siphon muscles (ASMs). These precursors express Islet and Tbx1/10, evocative of the splanchnic mesoderm that produces the lower jaw muscles and SHF of vertebrates. Evidence is presented that the transcription factor COE is a critical determinant of ASM fate. We propose that the last common ancestor of tunicates and vertebrates possessed multipotent cardiopharyngeal muscle precursors, and that their reallocation might have contributed to the emergence of the SHF.
Developmental biology aims to understand how the dynamics of embryonic shapes and organ functions are encoded in linear DNA molecules. Thanks to recent progress in genomics and imaging technologies, systemic approaches are now used in parallel with small-scale studies to establish links between genomic information and phenotypes, often described at the subcellular level. Current model organism databases, however, do not integrate heterogeneous data sets at different scales into a global view of the developmental program. Here, we present a novel, generic digital system, NISEED, and its implementation, ANISEED, to ascidians, which are invertebrate chordates suitable for developmental systems biology approaches. ANISEED hosts an unprecedented combination of anatomical and molecular data on ascidian development. This includes the first detailed anatomical ontologies for these embryos, and quantitative geometrical descriptions of developing cells obtained from reconstructed three-dimensional (3D) embryos up to the gastrula stages. Fully annotated gene model sets are linked to 30,000 high-resolution spatial gene expression patterns in wild-type and experimentally manipulated conditions and to 528 experimentally validated cis-regulatory regions imported from specialized databases or extracted from 160 literature articles. This highly structured data set can be explored via a Developmental Browser, a Genome Browser, and a 3D Virtual Embryo module. We show how integration of heterogeneous data in ANISEED can provide a system-level understanding of the developmental program through the automatic inference of gene regulatory interactions, the identification of inducing signals, and the discovery and explanation of novel asymmetric divisions.
One of the striking findings of comparative developmental genetics was that expression patterns of core transcription factors are extraordinarily conserved in bilaterians. However, it remains unclear whether cis-regulatory elements of their target genes also exhibit common signatures associated with conserved embryonic fields. To address this question, we focused on genes that are active in the anterior neuroectoderm and non-neural ectoderm of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis. Following the dissection of a prototypic anterior placodal enhancer, we searched all genomic conserved non-coding elements for duplicated motifs around genes showing anterior neuroectodermal expression. Strikingly, we identified an over-represented pentamer motif corresponding to the binding site of the homeodomain protein OTX, which plays a pivotal role in the anterior development of all bilaterian species. Using an in vivo reporter gene assay, we observed that 10 of 23 candidate cis-regulatory elements containing duplicated OTX motifs are active in the anterior neuroectoderm, thus showing that this cis-regulatory signature is predictive of neuroectodermal enhancers. These results show that a common cis-regulatory signature corresponding to K50-Paired homeodomain transcription factors is found in non-coding sequences flanking anterior neuroectodermal genes in chordate embryos. Thus, field-specific selector genes impose architectural constraints in the form of combinations of short tags on their target enhancers. This could account for the strong evolutionary conservation of the regulatory elements controlling field-specific selector genes responsible for body plan formation.
Gene regulatory networks control the progressive specification of cell types and govern morphogenetic events during development. However, how morphogenetic events reciprocally affect gene expression remains poorly understood. Here, we analyzed the function of BMP signaling and expression of downstream target genes during cell migration of the precardiac mesoderm (trunk ventral cells, TVCs) in ascidian embryos. Our results indicate that migrating TVCs experience increasing BMP signaling as they migrate towards the ventral trunk epidermis, which expresses sustained levels of Bmp2/4. This increasing signaling intensity allows the successive activation of GATAa, Tolloid, Bmp2/4 and NK4. Initial activation of GATAa, Tolloid and Bmp2/4 contribute to a positive feedback loop involving cell migration, chordin inhibition and BMP ligand production. Sustained levels of BMP signaling become sufficient to activate NK4 expression, which in turn contributes to a negative feedback loop inhibiting Bmp2/4 and Tolloid expression. In addition, NK4 appears to inhibit cell migration thus providing a "transcriptional brake" to stop TVC migration. Our observations led us to propose a model for the coordination of cell migration and gene expression based on the temporal unfolding of a gene regulatory sub-network in a relevant developmental context.
Mesp encodes a bHLH transcription factor required for specification of the cardiac mesoderm in Ciona embryos. The activities of Macho-1 and beta-catenin, two essential maternal determinants, are required for Mesp expression in the B7.5 blastomeres, which constitute the heart field. The T-box transcription factor Tbx6 functions downstream of Macho-1 as a direct activator of Mesp expression. However, Tbx6 cannot account for the restricted expression of Mesp in the B7.5 lineage since it is expressed throughout the presumptive tail muscles. Here we present evidence that the LIM-homeobox gene Lhx3, a direct target of beta-catenin, is essential for localized Mesp expression. Lhx3 is expressed throughout the presumptive endoderm and B7.5 blastomeres. Thus, the B7.5 blastomeres are the only cells to express sustained levels of the Tbx6 and Lhx3 activators. Like mammalian Lhx3 genes, Ci-Lhx3 encodes two isoforms with distinct N-terminal peptides. The Lhx3a isoform appears to be expressed both maternally and zygotically, while the Lhx3b isoform is exclusively zygotic. Misexpression of Lhx3b is sufficient to induce ectopic Mesp activation in cells expressing Tbx6b. Injection of antisense morpholino oligonucleotides showed that the Lhx3b isoform is required for endogenous Mesp expression. Mutations in the Lhx3 half-site of Tbx6/Lhx3 composite elements strongly reduced the activity of a minimal Mesp enhancer. We discuss the delineation of the heart field by the synergistic action of muscle and gut determinants.
The experimental malleability and unique phylogenetic position of the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis as part of the sister group to the vertebrates have helped establish these marine chordates as model organisms for the study of developmental genetics and evolution. Here we summarize the tools, techniques, and resources available to the Ciona geneticist, citing examples of studies that employed such strategies in the elucidation of gene function in Ciona. Genetic screens, germline transgenesis, electroporation of plasmid DNA, and microinjection of morpholinos are all routinely employed, and in the near future we expect these to be complemented by targeted mutagenesis, homologous recombination, and RNAi. The genomic resources available will continue to support the design and interpretation of genetic experiments and allow for increasingly sophisticated approaches on a high-throughput, whole-genome scale.
The heart and other blood pumping organs are close to being universally essential in the animal kingdom. These organs present a large anatomical, morphological, and cellular diversity, which is thought to have arisen by building developmental modules on a conserved core of ancestral heart regulatory units. In this context, studies using the ascidian model system Ciona intestinalis offer a distinctive set of theoretical and experimental advantages, which we herein discuss in details. Development of the heart and related muscles in Ciona has been analyzed with a cellular to subcellular resolution unprecedented in Chordate model systems. Unique derived developmental characters of the cardiogenic mesoderm appear to be shared between Ciona and vertebrates. Notably, accumulating evidence point to an early Chordate origin of the cardiopharyngeal population of mesoderm cells that may have provided the foundation for the emergence of the second heart field in higher vertebrates.
The study of cis-regulatory DNAs that control developmental gene expression is integral to the modeling of comprehensive genomic regulatory networks for embryogenesis. Ascidian embryos provide a unique opportunity for the analysis of cis-regulatory DNAs with cellular resolution in the context of a simple but typical chordate body plan. Here, we review landmark studies that have laid the foundations for the study of transcriptional enhancers, among other cis-regulatory DNAs, and their roles in ascidian development. The studies using ascidians of the Ciona genus have capitalized on a unique electroporation technique that permits the simultaneous transfection of hundreds of fertilized eggs, which develop rapidly and express transgenes with little mosaicism. Current studies using the ascidian embryo benefit from extensively annotated genomic resources to characterize transcript models in silico. The search for functional noncoding sequences can be guided by bioinformatic analyses combining evolutionary conservation, gene coexpression, and combinations of overrepresented short-sequence motifs. The power of the transient transfection assays has allowed thorough dissection of numerous cis-regulatory modules, which provided insights into the functional constraints that shape enhancer architecture and diversification. Future studies will benefit from pioneering stable transgenic lines and the analysis of chromatin states. Whole genome expression, functional and DNA binding data are being integrated into comprehensive genomic regulatory network models of early ascidian cell specification with a single-cell resolution that is unique among chordate model systems.
Related JoVE Video
Journal of Visualized Experiments
What is Visualize?
JoVE Visualize is a tool created to match the last 5 years of PubMed publications to methods in JoVE's video library.
How does it work?
We use abstracts found on PubMed and match them to JoVE videos to create a list of 10 to 30 related methods videos.
Video X seems to be unrelated to Abstract Y...
In developing our video relationships, we compare around 5 million PubMed articles to our library of over 4,500 methods videos. In some cases the language used in the PubMed abstracts makes matching that content to a JoVE video difficult. In other cases, there happens not to be any content in our video library that is relevant to the topic of a given abstract. In these cases, our algorithms are trying their best to display videos with relevant content, which can sometimes result in matched videos with only a slight relation.