Focusing on Ciona intestinalis (Tunicata) innate immune system. Evolutionary implications


  • N Parrinello Laboratory of Marine Immunobiology, Department of Animal Biology, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy


immunoevolution, genome, Ciona intestinalis, ascidians, innate immunity, inflammatory response, gene expression


Phylogenetic analyses based on molecular data provide compelling evidence that ascidians are of
critical importance for studying chordate immune system evolution. The Ciona intestinalis draft
genome sequence allows searches for phylogenetic relationships, gene cloning and expression of
immunorelevant molecules. Acidians lack of the pivotal components of the vertebrate recombinatory
adaptive immunity, i.e., MHC, TCRs and dimeric immunoglobulins. However, bioinformatic sequence
analyses recognized genic elements indicating the essential features of the Ig superfamily and
ancestor proto-MHC genes, suggesting a primitive pre-duplication and pre-recombination status. C.
intestinalis genes for individuality in the absence of MHC could encode diverse molecular markers,
including a wide panel of complement factors that could be responsible for self-nonself discrimination. Genome analysis reveals a number of innate immunity vertebrate-like genes which encode Toll-like and virus receptors, complement pathways components and receptors, CD94/NK-receptor-like, lectins, TNF, IL1-R, collagens. However, pure homology seeking for vertebrate-specific immunorelevant molecules is of limited value, and functional screening methods may be a more promising approach for tracing the immune system evolution. C. intestinalis, which displays acute and chronic inflammatory reactions, is a model organism for studying innate immunity genes expression and functions.