Tadpole larvae of ascidians have two sensory pigment cells in the brain. One is the otolith cell that functions as a gravity receptor, the other pigment cell is part of a primitive photosensory structure termed the ocellus. These sensory cells, like vertebrate pigment cells, contain membrane-bounded melanin granules and are considered to reflect a crucial position in the evolutionary process of this cell type. To investigate the molecular changes accompanying the evolution of pigment cells, we have isolated from Halocynthia roretzi a gene encoding tyrosinase, a key enzyme in melanin biosynthesis. The cDNA has an open reading frame (ORF) of 596 amino acids, which is 36-39% identical in amino acid sequence to vertebrate tyrosinases. In addition, the sequence analysis of both cDNA and genomic clones reveals an unusual organization of the tyrosinase gene, an extraordinary 3' untranslated region of the transcripts with significant homology to the coding sequence, and a single short intron in the sequence encoding a cytoplasmic domain. Expression of the gene is detected first in two pigment precursor cells positioned in the neural plate of early neurulae, and later in two melanin-containing pigment cells within the brain of late tailbud embryos. Its expression pattern correlates well with the appearance of tyrosinase enzyme activity in the developing brain. These results provide the first description of pigment cell differentiation at the molecular level in the ascidian embryo, and also will contribute to a better understanding of the evolution of chordate pigment cells.
|Number of pages||12|
|Publication status||Published - 1997 Mar|
- ascidian embryo
- pigment cell
- vertebrate evolution