Maternal determinants and mRNAs in the cortex of ascidian oocytes, zygotes and embryos

Biol Cell. 2005 Jan;97(1):35-49. doi: 10.1042/BC20040126.


The peripheral region of ascidian oocytes and zygotes contains five determinants for morphogenesis and differentiation of the embryo. The determinant for the 24 primary muscle cells of the tadpole, macho1, is one of several cortical mRNAs localized in a gradient along the animal-vegetal axis in the oocyte. After fertilization these mRNAs, together with cortical endoplasmic reticulum (cER) and a subcortical mitochondria-rich domain (myoplasm), relocate in two major reorganization phases forming the posterior plasm (postplasm) of the zygote. At the 8-cell stage cortical mRNAs concentrate in a macroscopic cortical structure called the centrosome-attracting body (CAB), forming a characteristic posterior end mark (PEM) in the two posterior vegetal blastomeres. We propose to call the numerous mRNAs showing this particular cortical localization in the posterior region of the embryo postplasmic/PEM RNAs and suggest a nomemclature. We do not know how postplasmic/PEM RNAs reach their polarized distribution in the oocyte cortex but at least PEM1 and macho1 (and probably others) bind to the network of cER retained in isolated cortical fragments. We propose that after fertilization, these postplasmic/PEM mRNAs move in the zygote cortex together with the cER network (cER/mRNA domain) via microfilament- and microtubule-driven translocations. The cER/mRNA domain is localized posteriorly at the time of first cleavage and distributed equally between the first two blastomeres. After the third cleavage, the cER/mRNA domain and dense particles compact to form the CAB in posterior vegetal blastomeres of the 8-cell stage. We discuss the identity of postplasmic/PEM RNAs, how they localize, anchor, relocate and may be translated. We also examine their roles in unequal cleavage and as a source of posterior morphogenetic and differentiation factors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Polarity / physiology*
  • Centrosome / metabolism
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism*
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Oocytes / physiology*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger, Stored / metabolism
  • Urochordata / metabolism*
  • Urochordata / physiology
  • Zygote / metabolism
  • Zygote / physiology*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Messenger, Stored