Ascidian embryogenesis is regarded as a typical ‘mosaic’ type. Recent studies have provided convincing evidence that components of the posterior-vegetal cytoplasm of fertilized eggs are responsible for establishment of the anteroposterior axis of the embryo. We report here isolation and characterization of a novel maternal gene, posterior end mark (pem). After fertilization, the pem transcript is concentrated in the posterior-vegetal cytoplasm of the egg and later marks the posterior end of developing ascidian embryos. Despite its conspicuous localization pattern, the predicted PEM protein shows no significant homology to known proteins. Overexpression of this gene by microinjection of synthesized pem mRNA into fertilized eggs results in development of tadpole larvae with deficiency of the anteriormost adhesive organ, dorsal brain and sensory pigment-cells. Lineage tracing analysis revealed that the anterior epidermis and dorsal neuronal cells were translocated posteriorly into the tail region, suggesting that this gene plays a role in establishment of anterior and dorsal patterning of the embryo. The ascidian tadpole is regarded as a prototype of vertebrates, implying a similar function of pem in vertebrate embryogenesis.

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