Distinct neuronal lineages of the ascidian embryo revealed by expression of a sodium channel gene

Dev Biol. 1997 Oct 15;190(2):257-72. doi: 10.1006/dbio.1997.8708.


The ascidian larva contains tubular neural tissue, one of the prominent anatomical features of the chordates. The cell-cleavage pattern and cell maps of the nervous system have been described in the ascidian larva in great detail. Cell types in the neural tube, however, have not yet been defined due to the lack of a suitable molecular marker. In the present work, we identified neuronal cells in the caudal neural tube of the Halocynthia embryo by utilizing a voltage-gated Na+ channel gene, TuNa I, as a molecular marker. Microinjection of a lineage tracer revealed that TuNa I-positive neurons in the brain and in the trunk epidermis are derived from the a-line of the eight-cell embryo, which includes cell fates to epidermal and neural tissue. On the other hand, TuNa I-positive cells in the more caudal part of the neural tissue were not stained by microinjection into the a-line. These neurons are derived from the A-line, which contains fates of notochord and muscle, but not of epidermis. Electron microscopic observation confirmed that A-line-derived neurons consist of motor neurons innervating the dorsal and ventral muscle cells. Isolated A-line blastomeres have active membrane excitability distinct from those of the a-line-derived neuronal cells after culture under cleavage arrest, suggesting that the A-line gives rise to a neuronal cell distinct from that of the a-lineage. TuNa I expression in the a-line requires signals from another cell lineage, whereas that in the A-line occurs without tight cell contact. Thus, there are at least two distinct neuronal lineages with distinct cellular behaviors in the ascidian larva: the a-line gives rise to numerous neuronal cells, including sensory cells, controlled by a mechanism similar to vertebrate neural induction, whereas A-line cells give rise to motor neurons and ependymal cells in the caudal neural tube that develop in close association with the notochord or muscle lineage, but not with the epidermal lineage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blastomeres
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Lineage
  • Electrophysiology
  • Gastrula
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Neck
  • Nervous System / cytology
  • Nervous System / embryology*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sodium Channels / isolation & purification*
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Urochordata / embryology*


  • Sodium Channels