The nervous system of the adult ascidian Ciona intestinalis Type A (Ciona robusta): Insights from transgenic animal models

PLoS One. 2017 Jun 26;12(6):e0180227. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180227. eCollection 2017.


The nervous system of ascidians is an excellent model system to provide insights into the evolutionary process of the chordate nervous system due to their phylogenetic positions as the sister group of vertebrates. However, the entire nervous system of adult ascidians has yet to be functionally and anatomically investigated. In this study, we have revealed the whole dorsal and siphon nervous system of the transgenic adult ascidian of Ciona intestinalis Type A (Ciona robusta) in which a Kaede reporter gene is expressed in a pan-neuronal fashion. The fluorescent signal of Kaede revealed the innervation patterns and distribution of neurons in the nervous system of Ciona. Precise microscopic observation demonstrated the clear innervation of the anterior and posterior main nerves to eight and six lobes of the oral and atrial siphons, respectively. Moreover, visceral nerves, previously identified as unpaired nerves, were found to be paired; one nerve was derived from the posterior end of the cerebral ganglion and the other from the right posterior nerve. This study further revealed the full trajectory of the dorsal strand plexus and paired visceral nerves on either side from the cerebral ganglion to the ovary, and precise innervation between the cerebral ganglion and the peripheral organs including the gonoduct, cupular organ, rectum and ovary. The differential innervation patterns of visceral nerves and the dorsal strand plexus indicate that the peripheral organs including the ovary undergo various neural regulations. Collectively, the present anatomical analysis revealed the major innervation of the dorsal and siphon nervous systems of adult Ciona.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Biological Evolution
  • Ciona intestinalis / anatomy & histology*
  • Ciona intestinalis / genetics
  • Ciona intestinalis / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Nervous System / anatomy & histology*
  • Nervous System / metabolism
  • Ovary / innervation
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism


  • Kaede protein, Trachyphyllia geoffroyi
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins

Grant support

This work was supported by the Japan Society for the promotion of Science ( to TO (26840108) and HS (25440161). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.