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Vitelline membrane proteins promote left-sided nodal expression after neurula rotation in the ascidian, Halocynthia roretzi

Tanaka, Yuka, Yamada, Shiori, Connop, Samantha L., Hashii, Noritaka, Sawada, Hitoshi, Shih, Yu, Nishida, Hiroki
Developmental biology 2019 v.449 no.1 pp. 52-61
Halocynthia roretzi, animals, asymmetry, cilia, eggs, epidermal growth factor, gel chromatography, gene expression, genes, mass spectrometry, membrane proteins, sugars, vitelline membrane, zona pellucida
Stereotyped left–right asymmetry both in external and internal organization is found in various animals. Left-right symmetry is broken by the neurula rotation in the ascidian, Halocynthia roretzi. Neurula embryos rotate along the anterior–posterior axis in a counterclockwise direction, and the rotation stops when the left side of the embryo is oriented downwards, resulting in contact of the left-side epidermis with the vitelline membrane at the bottom of perivitelline space. Then, such contact induces the expression of nodal and its downstream Pitx2 gene in the left-side epidermis. Vitelline membrane is required for the promotion of nodal expression. Here, we showed that a chemical signal from the vitelline membrane promotes nodal gene expression, but mechanical stimulus at the point of contact is unnecessary since the treatment of devitellinated neurulae with an extract of the vitelline membrane promoted nodal expression on both sides. The signal molecules are already present in the vitelline membranes of unfertilized eggs. These signal molecules are proteins but not sugars. Specific fractions in gel filtration chromatography had the nodal promoting activity. By mass spectrometry, we selected 48 candidate proteins. Proteins that contain both a zona pellucida (ZP) domain and epidermal growth factor (EGF) repeats were enriched in the candidates of the nodal inducing molecules. Six of the ZP proteins had multiple EGF repeats that are only found in ascidian ZP proteins. These were considered to be the most viable candidates of the nodal-inducing molecules. Signal molecules are anchored to the entire vitelline membrane, and contact sites of signal-receiving cells are spatially and mechanically controlled by the neurula rotation. In this context, ascidians are unusual with respect to mechanisms for specification of the left-right axis. By suppressing formation of epidermis monocilia, we also showed that epidermal cilia drive the neurula rotation but are dispensable for sensing the signal from the vitelline membrane.