Comparative analysis of transcriptomic profiles among ascidians, zebrafish, and mice: Insights from tissue-specific gene expression

PLoS One. 2021 Sep 24;16(9):e0254308. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0254308. eCollection 2021.


Tissue/organ-specific genes (TSGs) are important not only for understanding organ development and function, but also for investigating the evolutionary lineages of organs in animals. Here, we investigate the TSGs of 9 adult tissues of an ascidian, Ciona intestinalis Type A (Ciona robusta), which lies in the important position of being the sister group of vertebrates. RNA-seq and qRT-PCR identified the Ciona TSGs in each tissue, and BLAST searches identified their homologs in zebrafish and mice. Tissue distributions of the vertebrate homologs were analyzed and clustered using public RNA-seq data for 12 zebrafish and 30 mouse tissues. Among the vertebrate homologs of the Ciona TSGs in the neural complex, 48% and 63% showed high expression in the zebrafish and mouse brain, respectively, suggesting that the central nervous system is evolutionarily conserved in chordates. In contrast, vertebrate homologs of Ciona TSGs in the ovary, pharynx, and intestine were not consistently highly expressed in the corresponding tissues of vertebrates, suggesting that these organs have evolved in Ciona-specific lineages. Intriguingly, more TSG homologs of the Ciona stomach were highly expressed in the vertebrate liver (17-29%) and intestine (22-33%) than in the mouse stomach (5%). Expression profiles for these genes suggest that the biological roles of the Ciona stomach are distinct from those of their vertebrate counterparts. Collectively, Ciona tissues were categorized into 3 groups: i) high similarity to the corresponding vertebrate tissues (neural complex and heart), ii) low similarity to the corresponding vertebrate tissues (ovary, pharynx, and intestine), and iii) low similarity to the corresponding vertebrate tissues, but high similarity to other vertebrate tissues (stomach, endostyle, and siphons). The present study provides transcriptomic catalogs of adult ascidian tissues and significant insights into the evolutionary lineages of the brain, heart, and digestive tract of chordates.

Grant support

This work was supported by the Japan Society for the promotion of Science ( to Shin Matsubara (JP19K16182). The funder had no roles in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.