Ependymal cells of chordate larvae are stem-like cells that form the adult nervous system

Nature. 2011 Jan 27;469(7331):525-8. doi: 10.1038/nature09631. Epub 2011 Jan 2.


In ascidian tunicates, the metamorphic transition from larva to adult is accompanied by dynamic changes in the body plan. For instance, the central nervous system (CNS) is subjected to extensive rearrangement because its regulating larval organs are lost and new adult organs are created. To understand how the adult CNS is reconstructed, we traced the fate of larval CNS cells during ascidian metamorphosis by using transgenic animals and imaging technologies with photoconvertible fluorescent proteins. Here we show that most parts of the ascidian larval CNS, except for the tail nerve cord, are maintained during metamorphosis and recruited to form the adult CNS. We also show that most of the larval neurons disappear and only a subset of cholinergic motor neurons and glutamatergic neurons are retained. Finally, we demonstrate that ependymal cells of the larval CNS contribute to the construction of the adult CNS and that some differentiate into neurons in the adult CNS. An unexpected role of ependymal cells highlighted by this study is that they serve as neural stem-like cells to reconstruct the adult nervous network during chordate metamorphosis. Consequently, the plasticity of non-neuronal ependymal cells and neuronal cells in chordates should be re-examined by future studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Central Nervous System / cytology
  • Central Nervous System / growth & development
  • Larva
  • Metamorphosis, Biological
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology
  • Urochordata / growth & development*