Ascidian embryogenesis shares several developmental features with vertebrates. Thus, it is presumed that some molecular mechanisms that are critical for vertebrate development may also act in the early development of ascidians. Here, we investigated expression of the ascidian labial group Hox gene HrHox-1 in the development of Halocynthia roretzi. HrHox-1 showed a spatially restricted expression pattern along the anterior-posterior axis, which is remarkably similar to that of the vertebrate gene, Hoxb-1. The expression of HrHox-1, however, was exclusively in tissues of ectoderm origin unlike its vertebrate counterpart. Exposure of the embryos to 10(−6) M all-trans retinoic acid induced a larval phenotype with elimination of the anteriormost structures, the papillae. In this phenotype, the level of HrHox-1 expression was enhanced and ectopic expression was observed at the anterior terminal epidermis where the papillae are otherwise formed. These observations suggest that there are some conserved mechanisms in the spatial regulation of expression of labial group genes in embryogenesis of ascidians and vertebrates.

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