Role of cell interactions in ascidian muscle and pigment cell specification

Research paper by William R. Jeffery

Indexed on: 01 Mar '93Published on: 01 Mar '93Published in: Development Genes and Evolution


Muscle and brain pigment cell specification was studied by disrupting cell adhesion, cell dissociation, and reaggregation in embryos of the ascidianStyela clava. Treatment of embryos with Ca2+-free sea water between the 2-cell and gastrula stages disrupted blastomere adhesion but did not prevent acetylcholinesterase or muscle actin expression in presumptive muscle cells. Similar treatments initiated between the 2- and 32-cell stages caused more ectoderm cells to express tyrosinase and develop pigment granules than expected from the cell lineage. Whereas 2 pigment cells become the otolith and ocellus sensory organs in normal embryos, up to 33 pigment cells could differentiate in embryos after disruption of cell adhesion. Replacement of Ca2+-free sea water with normal sea water restored cell adhesion and usually resulted in development of embryos containing the conventional number of pigment cells. Dissociation of embryos into single cells between the 2- and 64-cell stages and culture of these cells beyond the fate restricted stage had no effect on the accumulation of muscle actin mRNA and muscle actin synthesis, but blocked pigment cell differentiation. Reaggregation of the dissociated cells did not enhance the number of cells that developed muscle features, but rescued pigment cell development. The results indicate that ascidian muscle cell specification occurs by an autonomous mechanism, whereas pigment cell specification occurs by a conditional mechanism involving cell interactions. In addition, the results suggest that negative cell interactions may restrict the potential for pigment cell development in the ectoderm of cleaving ascidian embryos.