Neuropeptides, hormone peptides, and their receptors in Ciona intestinalis: an update

Zoolog Sci. 2010 Feb;27(2):134-53. doi: 10.2108/zsj.27.134.


The critical phylogenetic position of ascidians leads to the presumption that neuropeptides and hormones in vertebrates are highly likely to be evolutionarily conserved in ascidians, and the cosmopolitan species Ciona intestinalis is expected to be an excellent deuterostome Invertebrate model for studies on neuropeptides and hormones. Nevertheless, molecular and functional characterization of Ciona neuropeptides and hormone peptides was restricted to a few peptides such as a cholecystokinin (CCK)/gastrin peptide, cionin, and gonadotropin-releasing hormones (GnRHs). In the past few years, mass spectrometric analyses and database searches have detected Ciona orthologs or prototypes of vertebrate peptides and their receptors, including tachykinin, insulin/relaxin, calcitonin, and vasopressin. Furthermore, studies have shown that several Ciona peptides, including vasopressin and a novel GnRH-related peptide, have acquired ascidian-specific molecular forms and/or biological functions. These findings provided indisputable evidence that ascidians, unlike other invertebrates (including the traditional protostome model animals), possess neuropeptides and hormone peptides structurally and functionally related to vertebrate counterparts, and that several peptides have uniquely diverged in ascidian evolutionary lineages. Moreover, recent functional analyses of Ciona tachykinin in the ovary substantiated the novel tachykininergic protease-assoclated oocyte growth pathway, which could not have been revealed in studies on vertebrates. These findings confirm the outstanding advantages of ascidians in understanding the neuroscience, endocrinology, and evolution of vertebrate neuropeptides and hormone peptides. This article provides an overview of basic findings and reviews new knowledge on ascidian neuropeptides and hormone peptides.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ciona intestinalis / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Peptide / metabolism*


  • Neuropeptides
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide
  • Receptors, Peptide