From oocyte to 16-cell stage: Cytoplasmic and cortical reorganizations that pattern the ascidian embryo

Christian Sardet, Alexandre Paix, François Prodon, Philippe Dru, Janet Chenevert

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The dorsoventral and anteroposterior axes of the ascidian embryo are denned before first cleavage by means of a series of reorganizations that reposition cytoplasmic and cortical domains established during oogenesis. These domains situated in the periphery of the oocyte contain developmental determinants and a population of maternal postplasmic/PEM RNAs. One of these RNAs (macho-1) is a determinant for the muscle cells of the tadpole embryo. Oocytes acquire a primary animal-vegetal (a-v) axis during meiotic maturation, when a subcortical mitochondria-rich domain (myoplasm) and a domain rich in cortical endoplasmic reticulum (cER) and maternal postplasmic/PEM RNAs (cER-mRNA domain) become polarized and asymmetrically enriched in the vegetal hemisphere. Fertilization at metaphase of meiosis I initiates a series of dramatic cytoplasmic and cortical reorganizations of the zygote, which occur in two major phases. The first major phase depends on sperm entry which triggers a calcium wave leading in turn to an actomyosin-driven contraction wave. The contraction concentrates the cER-mRNA domain and myoplasm in and around a vegetal/contraction pole. The precise localization of the vegetal/contraction pole depends on both the a-v axis and the location of sperm entry and prefigures the future site of gastrulation and dorsal side of the embryo. The second major phase of reorganization occurs between meiosis completion and first cleavage. Sperm aster microtubules and then cortical microfilaments cause the cER-mRNA domain and myoplasm to reposition toward the posterior of the zygote. The location of the posterior pole depends on the localization of the sperm centrosome/aster attained during the first major phase of reorganization. Both cER-mRNA and myoplasm domains localized in the posterior region are partitioned equally between the first two blastomeres and then asymmetrically over the next two cleavages. At the eight-cell stage the cER-mRNA domain compacts and gives rise to a macroscopic cortical structure called the Centrosome Attracting Body (CAB). The CAB is responsible for a series of unequal divisions in posterior-vegetal blastomeres, and the postplasmic/PEM RNAs it contains are involved in patterning the posterior region of the embryo. In this review, we discuss these multiple events and phases of reorganizations in detail and their relationship to physiological, cell cycle, and cytoskeletal events. We also examine the role of the reorganizations in localizing determinants, postplasmic/PEM RNAs, and PAR polarity proteins in the cortex. Finally, we summarize some of the remaining questions concerning polarization of the ascidian embryo and provide comparisons to a few other species. A large collection of films illustrating the reorganizations can be consulted by clicking on "Film archive: ascidian eggs and embryos" at

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1716-1731
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopmental Dynamics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Ascidian
  • Embryo
  • Fertilization
  • Maturation
  • Oocyte
  • Polarity
  • a-v/D-V/A-P axes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'From oocyte to 16-cell stage: Cytoplasmic and cortical reorganizations that pattern the ascidian embryo'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this