Factors necessary for restoring an evolutionary change in an anural ascidian embryo. Academic Article uri icon


  • The ascidian Molgula oculata has a tailed (or urodele) larva, whereas Molgula occulta develops directly via a tailless (or anural) embryo. Interspecific hybrid embryos produced by fertilizing M. occulta eggs with M. oculata sperm (M. occulta x M. oculata hybrids) can develop urodele larval structures, including a brain pigment cell and a short tail containing a small notochord. Development of larval features differs in individual M. occulta clutches: some eggs develop into hybrids with both a brain pigment cell and a tail, some into hybrids with either a brain pigment cell or a tail, and others into hybrids without urodele features. The expression of a 58-kDa protein (p58), which is present in eggs and embryos of urodele ascidians but lacking in those of most anural species, also varies in expression between different clutches of M. occulta eggs. Western blot and immunofluorescence studies show that p58 expression is correlated with the ability of hybrid embryos to express urodele features. For example, clutches of M. occulta eggs containing relatively high levels of p58 produce many hybrids with both a brain pigment cell and a tail. Differential expression of p58 occurs during oogenesis in M. occulta individuals: p58 is found at similar levels in previtellogenic oocytes, but in some animals it disappears during vitellogenesis, while in others it persists throughout oogenesis and is present in mature eggs. When M. occulta eggs are extracted with Triton X-100, p58 remains in the detergent-insoluble fraction, suggesting that it is associated with the cytoskeleton. In most unfertilized M. occulta eggs, p58 is uniformly distributed, but after fertilization it is localized in the uncleaved zygote and then concentrated in embryonic ectoderm, notochord, and muscle lineage cells. Despite containing high levels of p58, gynogenetic hybrid embryos, produced by fertilizing M. occulta eggs with uv-irradiated M. oculata sperm, develop into hybrids without a brain pigment cell or a tail. The results suggest that both a functional paternal genome and p58 are necessary for restoration of larval features in M. occulta x M. oculata hybrids. The cytoskeletal complex containing p58 may mediate the localization of key maternal factors in the egg or may be involved in cellular interactions during embryogenesis which are responsible for development of urodele cell fates.

publication date

  • October 1992