Genetic perspectives on the ascidian central nervous system
Keywords:ascidian, nervous system, genetic pathway, genome, regulatory network
In 2002, date of publication of the Ciona intestinalis genome, ascidians entered the post-genomic
era. This tool had a fundamental role and has become the starting point for a series of new functional
and genomic studies. Recently, great efforts have been done to characterize the genetic cascades of
genes having a key role in early embryonic development and to draw the regulatory networks in which they are involved. In this review, we focused our attention on the last advances obtained in the attempt to clarify the complex molecular events governing ascidian central nervous system development with a special interest for anterior neural and sensory structures. We discussed the more recent theories on its early induction and late regionalization. In particular, we used some conserved genes fully or partially characterized as examples to compare ascidian and vertebrate central nervous system (CNS). By integrating the various results obtained with microarray, morpholino loss of function and promoter analyses, we showed that many progresses have been done to unravel the gene networks controlling early CNS induction and formation. Unfortunately, fewer advances have been done in the identification of the regulatory cascades controlling late CNS regionalization and sensory organs differentiation. Some results are discussed to point out the importance of fully characterizing also these specific regulatory cascades.