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1.  A Conserved Non-Reproductive GnRH System in Chordates 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41955.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is a neuroendocrine peptide that plays a central role in the vertebrate hypothalamo-pituitary axis. The roles of GnRH in the control of vertebrate reproductive functions have been established, while its non-reproductive function has been suggested but less well understood. Here we show that the tunicate Ciona intestinalis has in its non-reproductive larval stage a prominent GnRH system spanning the entire length of the nervous system. Tunicate GnRH receptors are phylogenetically closest to vertebrate GnRH receptors, yet functional analysis of the receptors revealed that these simple chordates have evolved a unique GnRH system with multiple ligands and receptor heterodimerization enabling complex regulation. One of the gnrh genes is conspicuously expressed in the motor ganglion and nerve cord, which are homologous structures to the hindbrain and spinal cord of vertebrates. Correspondingly, GnRH receptor genes were found to be expressed in the tail muscle and notochord of embryos, both of which are phylotypic axial structures along the nerve cord. Our findings suggest a novel non-reproductive role of GnRH in tunicates. Furthermore, we present evidence that GnRH-producing cells are present in the hindbrain and spinal cord of the medaka, Oryzias latipes, thereby suggesting the deep evolutionary origin of a non-reproductive GnRH system in chordates.
PMCID: PMC3407064  PMID: 22848672
2.  Monoaminergic modulation of photoreception in ascidian: evidence for a proto-hypothalamo-retinal territory 
BMC Biology  2012;10:45.
The retina of craniates/vertebrates has been proposed to derive from a photoreceptor prosencephalic territory in ancestral chordates, but the evolutionary origin of the different cell types making the retina is disputed. Except for photoreceptors, the existence of homologs of retinal cells remains uncertain outside vertebrates.
The expression of genes expressed in the sensory vesicle of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis including those encoding components of the monoaminergic neurotransmission systems, was analyzed by in situ hybridization or in vivo transfection of the corresponding regulatory elements driving fluorescent reporters. Modulation of photic responses by monoamines was studied by electrophysiology combined with pharmacological treatments.
We show that many molecular characteristics of dopamine-synthesizing cells located in the vicinity of photoreceptors in the sensory vesicle of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis are similar to those of amacrine dopamine cells of the vertebrate retina. The ascidian dopamine cells share with vertebrate amacrine cells the expression of the key-transcription factor Ptf1a, as well as that of dopamine-synthesizing enzymes. Surprisingly, the ascidian dopamine cells accumulate serotonin via a functional serotonin transporter, as some amacrine cells also do. Moreover, dopamine cells located in the vicinity of the photoreceptors modulate the light-off induced swimming behavior of ascidian larvae by acting on alpha2-like receptors, instead of dopamine receptors, supporting a role in the modulation of the photic response. These cells are located in a territory of the ascidian sensory vesicle expressing genes found both in the retina and the hypothalamus of vertebrates (six3/6, Rx, meis, pax6, visual cycle proteins).
We propose that the dopamine cells of the ascidian larva derive from an ancestral multifunctional cell population located in the periventricular, photoreceptive field of the anterior neural tube of chordates, which also gives rise to both anterior hypothalamus and the retina in craniates/vertebrates. It also shows that the existence of multiple cell types associated with photic responses predates the formation of the vertebrate retina.
PMCID: PMC3414799  PMID: 22642675
3.  Profiling ascidian promoters as the primordial type of vertebrate promoter 
BMC Genomics  2011;12(Suppl 3):S7.
CpG islands are observed in mammals and other vertebrates, generally escape DNA methylation, and tend to occur in the promoters of widely expressed genes. Another class of promoter has lower G+C and CpG contents, and is thought to be involved in the spatiotemporal regulation of gene expression. Non-vertebrate deuterostomes are reported to have a single class of promoter with high-frequency CpG dinucleotides, suggesting that this is the original type of promoter. However, the limited annotation of these genes has impeded the large-scale analysis of their promoters.
To determine the origins of the two classes of vertebrate promoters, we chose Ciona intestinalis, an invertebrate that is evolutionarily close to the vertebrates, and identified its transcription start sites genome-wide using a next-generation sequencer. We indeed observed a high CpG content around the transcription start sites, but their levels in the promoters and background sequences differed much less than in mammals. The CpG-rich stretches were also fairly restricted, so they appeared more similar to mammalian CpG-poor promoters.
From these data, we infer that CpG islands are not sufficiently ancient to be found in invertebrates. They probably appeared early in vertebrate evolution via some active mechanism and have since been maintained as part of vertebrate promoters.
PMCID: PMC3333190  PMID: 22369359
4.  COQ6 mutations in human patients produce nephrotic syndrome with sensorineural deafness  
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2011;121(5):2013-2024.
Steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome (SRNS) is a frequent cause of end-stage renal failure. Identification of single-gene causes of SRNS has generated some insights into its pathogenesis; however, additional genes and disease mechanisms remain obscure, and SRNS continues to be treatment refractory. Here we have identified 6 different mutations in coenzyme Q10 biosynthesis monooxygenase 6 (COQ6) in 13 individuals from 7 families by homozygosity mapping. Each mutation was linked to early-onset SRNS with sensorineural deafness. The deleterious effects of these human COQ6 mutations were validated by their lack of complementation in coq6-deficient yeast. Furthermore, knockdown of Coq6 in podocyte cell lines and coq6 in zebrafish embryos caused apoptosis that was partially reversed by coenzyme Q10 treatment. In rats, COQ6 was located within cell processes and the Golgi apparatus of renal glomerular podocytes and in stria vascularis cells of the inner ear, consistent with an oto-renal disease phenotype. These data suggest that coenzyme Q10–related forms of SRNS and hearing loss can be molecularly identified and potentially treated.
PMCID: PMC3083770  PMID: 21540551
5.  Cross-validated methods for promoter/transcription start site mapping in SL trans-spliced genes, established using the Ciona intestinalis troponin I gene 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;39(7):2638-2648.
In conventionally-expressed eukaryotic genes, transcription start sites (TSSs) can be identified by mapping the mature mRNA 5′-terminal sequence onto the genome. However, this approach is not applicable to genes that undergo pre-mRNA 5′-leader trans-splicing (SL trans-splicing) because the original 5′-segment of the primary transcript is replaced by the spliced leader sequence during the trans-splicing reaction and is discarded. Thus TSS mapping for trans-spliced genes requires different approaches. We describe two such approaches and show that they generate precisely agreeing results for an SL trans-spliced gene encoding the muscle protein troponin I in the ascidian tunicate chordate Ciona intestinalis. One method is based on experimental deletion of trans-splice acceptor sites and the other is based on high-throughput mRNA 5′-RACE sequence analysis of natural RNA populations in order to detect minor transcripts containing the pre-mRNA’s original 5′-end. Both methods identified a single major troponin I TSS located ∼460 nt upstream of the trans-splice acceptor site. Further experimental analysis identified a functionally important TATA element 31 nt upstream of the start site. The two methods employed have complementary strengths and are broadly applicable to mapping promoters/TSSs for trans-spliced genes in tunicates and in trans-splicing organisms from other phyla.
PMCID: PMC3074122  PMID: 21109525
6.  Evolution and the origin of the visual retinoid cycle in vertebrates 
Absorption of a photon by visual pigments induces isomerization of 11-cis-retinaldehyde (RAL) chromophore to all-trans-RAL. Since the opsins lacking 11-cis-RAL lose light sensitivity, sustained vision requires continuous regeneration of 11-cis-RAL via the process called ‘visual cycle’. Protostomes and vertebrates use essentially different machinery of visual pigment regeneration, and the origin and early evolution of the vertebrate visual cycle is an unsolved mystery. Here we compare visual retinoid cycles between different photoreceptors of vertebrates, including rods, cones and non-visual photoreceptors, as well as between vertebrates and invertebrates. The visual cycle systems in ascidians, the closest living relatives of vertebrates, show an intermediate state between vertebrates and non-chordate invertebrates. The ascidian larva may use retinochrome-like opsin as the major isomerase. The entire process of the visual cycle can occur inside the photoreceptor cells with distinct subcellular compartmentalization, although the visual cycle components are also present in surrounding non-photoreceptor cells. The adult ascidian probably uses RPE65 isomerase, and trans-to-cis isomerization may occur in distinct cellular compartments, which is similar to the vertebrate situation. The complete transition to the sophisticated retinoid cycle of vertebrates may have required acquisition of new genes, such as interphotoreceptor retinoid-binding protein, and functional evolution of the visual cycle genes.
PMCID: PMC2781855  PMID: 19720652
visual cycle; opsin; chromophore regeneration; RPE65; photoisomerase; ascidian
7.  Tube formation by complex cellular processes in Ciona intestinalis notochord 
Developmental biology  2009;330(2):237-249.
In the course of embryogenesis multicellular structures and organs are assembled from constituent cells. One structural component common to many organs is the tube, which consists most simply of a luminal space surrounded by a single layer of epithelial cells. The notochord of ascidian Ciona forms a tube consisting of only 40 cells, and serves as a hydrostatic “skeleton” essential for swimming. While the early processes of convergent extension in ascidian notochord development have been extensively studied, the later phases of development, which include lumen formation, have not been well characterized. Here we used molecular markers and confocal imaging to describe tubulogenesis in the developing Ciona notochord. We found that during tubulogenesis each notochord cell established de novo apical domains, and underwent a mesenchymal-epithelial transition to become an unusual epithelial cell with two opposing apical domains. Concomitantly, extracellular luminal matrix was produced and deposited between notochord cells. Subsequently, each notochord cell simultaneously executed two types of crawling movements bi-directionally along the anterior/posterior axis on the inner surface of notochordal sheath. Lamellipodia-like protrusions resulted in cell lengthening along the anterior/posterior axis, while the retraction of trailing edges of the same cell led to the merging of the two apical domains. As a result, the notochord cells acquired endothelial-like shape and formed the wall of the central lumen. Inhibition of actin polymerization prevented the cell movement and tube formation. Ciona notochord tube formation utilized an assortment of common and fundamental cellular processes including cell shape change, apical membrane biogenesis, cell/cell adhesion remodeling, dynamic cell crawling, and lumen matrix secretion.
PMCID: PMC2841060  PMID: 19324030
Notochord; Tubulogenesis; Ciona; Mesenchymal-epithelial transition; Apical/basal polarity; Cell crawling; Adhesion junction remodeling; Lumen formation
9.  Individuals with mutations in XPNPEP3, which encodes a mitochondrial protein, develop a nephronophthisis-like nephropathy  
The autosomal recessive kidney disease nephronophthisis (NPHP) constitutes the most frequent genetic cause of terminal renal failure in the first 3 decades of life. Ten causative genes (NPHP1–NPHP9 and NPHP11), whose products localize to the primary cilia-centrosome complex, support the unifying concept that cystic kidney diseases are “ciliopathies”. Using genome-wide homozygosity mapping, we report here what we believe to be a new locus (NPHP-like 1 [NPHPL1]) for an NPHP-like nephropathy. In 2 families with an NPHP-like phenotype, we detected homozygous frameshift and splice-site mutations, respectively, in the X-prolyl aminopeptidase 3 (XPNPEP3) gene. In contrast to all known NPHP proteins, XPNPEP3 localizes to mitochondria of renal cells. However, in vivo analyses also revealed a likely cilia-related function; suppression of zebrafish xpnpep3 phenocopied the developmental phenotypes of ciliopathy morphants, and this effect was rescued by human XPNPEP3 that was devoid of a mitochondrial localization signal. Consistent with a role for XPNPEP3 in ciliary function, several ciliary cystogenic proteins were found to be XPNPEP3 substrates, for which resistance to N-terminal proline cleavage resulted in attenuated protein function in vivo in zebrafish. Our data highlight an emerging link between mitochondria and ciliary dysfunction, and suggest that further understanding the enzymatic activity and substrates of XPNPEP3 will illuminate novel cystogenic pathways.
PMCID: PMC2827951  PMID: 20179356
10.  Markov Chain-based Promoter Structure Modeling for Tissue-specific Expression Pattern Prediction 
Transcriptional regulation is the first level of regulation of gene expression and is therefore a major topic in computational biology. Genes with similar expression patterns can be assumed to be co-regulated at the transcriptional level by promoter sequences with a similar structure. Current approaches for modeling shared regulatory features tend to focus mainly on clustering of cis-regulatory sites. Here we introduce a Markov chain-based promoter structure model that uses both shared motifs and shared features from an input set of promoter sequences to predict candidate genes with similar expression. The model uses positional preference, order, and orientation of motifs. The trained model is used to score a genomic set of promoter sequences: high-scoring promoters are assumed to have a structure similar to the input sequences and are thus expected to drive similar expression patterns. We applied our model on two datasets in Caenorhabditis elegans and in Ciona intestinalis. Both computational and experimental verifications indicate that this model is capable of predicting candidate promoters driving similar expression patterns as the input-regulatory sequences. This model can be useful for finding promising candidate genes for wet-lab experiments and for increasing our understanding of transcriptional regulation.
PMCID: PMC2650632  PMID: 18258700
regulation of transcription; Markov chain; promoter modeling; in situ hybridization; transcription factor binding site
11.  DBTGR: a database of tunicate promoters and their regulatory elements 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;34(Database issue):D552-D555.
The high similarity of tunicates and vertebrates during their development coupled with the transparency of tunicate larvae, their well-studied cell lineages and the availability of simple and efficient transgenesis methods makes of this subphylum an ideal system for the investigation of vertebrate physiological and developmental processes. Recently, the sequencing of two different Ciona genomes has lead to the identification of numerous genes. In order to better understand the regulation of these genes, a database was created containing information on regulation of tunicate genes collected from literature. It includes for instance information regarding the minimal promoter length, the transcription factors involved and their binding sites, as well as the localization of the gene expression. Additionally, binding sites for characterized transcription factors were predicted based on published in vitro recognition sites. Comparison of the promoters of homologous genes in different species is also provided to allow identification of conserved cis elements. At the time of writing, information about 184 promoters, containing 73 identified binding sites and >2000 newly predicted binding sites is available. This database is accessible at .
PMCID: PMC1347427  PMID: 16381930

Results 1-11 (11)