The central nervous system of the ascidian larva: mitotic history of cells forming the neural tube in late embryonic Ciona intestinalis

Dev Biol. 2004 Jul 15;271(2):239-62. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2004.04.001.


Ascidian larvae develop after an invariant pattern of embryonic cleavage. Fewer than 400 cells constitute the larval central nervous system (CNS), which forms without either extensive migration or cell death. We catalogue the mitotic history of these cells in Ciona intestinalis, using confocal microscopy of whole-mount embryos at stages from neurulation until hatching. The positions of cells contributing to the CNS were reconstructed from confocal image stacks of embryonic nuclei, and maps of successive stages were used to chart the mitotic descent, thereby creating a cell lineage for each cell. The entire CNS is formed from 10th- to 14th-generation cells. Although minor differences exist in cell position, lineage is invariant in cells derived from A-line blastomeres, which form the caudal nerve cord and visceral ganglion. We document the lineage of five pairs of presumed motor neurons within the visceral ganglion: one pair arises from A/A 10.57, and four from progeny of A/A 9.30. The remaining cells of the visceral ganglion are in their 13th and 14th generations at hatching, with most mitotic activity ceasing around 85% of embryonic development. Of the approximately 330 larval cells previously reported in the CNS of Ciona, we document the lineage of 226 that derive predominantly from A-line blastomeres.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Carbocyanines
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Cell Lineage / physiology*
  • Ciona intestinalis / embryology*
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / cytology*
  • Spinal Cord / embryology*


  • BOBO 3
  • Carbocyanines