, Volume 200, Issue 4, pp 193-201

Ultrastructural and histochemical study of anural development in the ascidian Molgula pacifica (Huntsman)

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Tadpole development is eliminated in the life cycle of the ascidian Molgula pacifica. The elimination of a tailed larva is termed anural development, in contrast to urodele development which is exhibited by most ascidian species. In the present study, transmission electron microscopy and histochemistry were used to gain a better understanding of anural development in M. pacifica. The fine structure of M. pacifica oocytes and fertilized eggs was similar to urodele oocytes and eggs, except that a perivitelline space and test cells were absent. M. pacifica embryos exhibited the typical cleavage pattern of urodele embryos. Gastrulation was initiated at the vegetal pole, as in urodeles, and occurred at the same time as in two urodele species (Molgula manhattensis and Pyura haustor). However, changes in cell shapes and cell movements of the vegetal pole cells that participate in gastrulation were highly modified compared to commonly studied ascidians. The changes in shapes and movements of the vegetal pole cells were minimal and resulted in embryos having a very small archenteron and blastopore. The presence of large, yolky cells in the interior of the embryo likely restricted vegetal cell movements. Two ultrastructurally distinct types of epidermal cells were evident at the gastrula stage. When gastrulae were manually dechorionated from their surrounding mucous-follicular envelope layers, the embryos were already surrounded by a thin tunic. When day 1 juveniles in the process of hatching were sectioned along the anterior-posterior axis, regional differences in cell types were evident. Differentiated muscle cells in the posterior region were not evident. Day 1 M. pacifica juveniles, anural-developing M. provisionalis juveniles and tadpoles from three urodele species were tested for their abilities to express AchE activity. The highest levels of AchE activity were detected in the larval tail muscle cells of urodeles, low levels of activity were detected in the posterior region of M. provisionalis juveniles, whereas M. pacifica juveniles did not exhibit AchE activity. The results are discussed in terms of evolutionary mechanisms responsible for anural development in ascidians.

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