Maternal factors localized in the posterior-vegetal cytoplasm of an ascidian egg are essential for cell specification and pattern formation of the embryo. The molecular identification of the localized factors and the elucidation of the machinery associated with the localization are therefore key research subjects. I report here the isolation and characterization of a novel maternally expressed gene, posterior end mark 3 (pem-3). The pem-3 cDNA was obtained from a cDNA library of fertilized egg mRNAs subtracted with gastrula mRNAs of Ciona savignyi. As in the case of pem (Yoshida et al., 1996, Development 122, 2005-2012), the pem-3 maternal transcript was gradually concentrated after fertilization in the posterior-vegetal cytoplasm of the egg, and it later marked the posterior end of developing embryos. The PEM-3 protein was also detected in the posterior end of early embryos. The nucleotide sequence predicted that pem-3 encodes a probable RNA-binding protein with two KH domains that have an extensive similarity with those of Caenorhabditis elegans MEX-3. MEX-3 is also localized in nematode embryos (Draper et al., 1996, Cell 87, 205-216), suggesting that PEM-3 is a candidate homologue of MEX-3. In addition to maternal expression, a zygotic transcript of pem-3 and its gene product were detected in cells of the neural plate, mesenchyme, and epidermis of embryos after the neural-plate stage. Inhibition of zygotic expression using an antisense oligonucleotide resulted in the development of abnormal larvae without sensory pigment cells, suggesting that the zygotic PEM-3 plays a role in the differentiation of the brain of the ascidian larva.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.