Orchestration of the distinct morphogenetic movements in different tissues drives tail regression during ascidian metamorphosis

Dev Biol. 2020 Sep 1;465(1):66-78. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2020.07.009. Epub 2020 Jul 19.


Metamorphosis is the dramatic conversion of an animal body from larva to adult. In ascidians, tadpole-shaped, swimming larvae become sessile juveniles by losing their tail during metamorphosis. This study investigated the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying this metamorphic event called tail regression, in the model ascidian Ciona. The ascidian tail consists of internal organs such as muscle, notochord, nerve cord, and the outer epidermal layer surrounding them. We found that the epidermis and internal organs show different regression strategies. Epidermal cells are shortened along the anterior-posterior axis and gather at the posterior region. The epidermal mass is then invaginated into the trunk by apical constriction. The internal tissues, by contrast, enter into the trunk by forming coils. During coiling, notches are introduced into the muscle cells, which likely reduces their rigidness to promote coiling. Actin filament is the major component necessary for the regression events in both the epidermis and internal tissues. The shortening and invagination of the epidermis depend on the phosphorylation of the myosin regulatory light chain (mrlc) regulated by rho-kinase (ROCK). The coiling of internal tissues does not require ROCK-dependent phosphorylation of mrlc, and they can complete coiling without epidermis, although epidermis can facilitate the coiling of internal tissues. We conclude that tail regression in ascidians consists of active morphogenetic movements in which each tissue's independent mechanism is orchestrated with the others to complete this event within the available time window.

Keywords: Actin filament; Ascidian; Epidermis; Metamorphosis; Tail regression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ciona intestinalis / embryology*
  • Epidermis
  • Metamorphosis, Biological / physiology*
  • Tail / embryology*