Alkaline phosphatase (AP) activity is expressed by endodermal cells of ascidian larvae. It was reported previously that the expression of AP activity is resistant to treatment with actinomycin D, a transcription inhibitor that inhibits the appearance of several other tissue-specific molecules and morphological markers of tissue formation in developing ascidians. The resistance of AP expression to actinomycin D treatment suggests that endodermal AP activity does not depend on zygotic transcription and that its appearance is mediated by the translational activation of maternal AP mRNA present in ascidian eggs. However, it was also shown that anucleate merogons do not develop AP activity. To directly examine whether maternal AP transcripts are present in the cytoplasm of eggs, we isolated a cDNA of an endoderm-specific AP in Halocynthia roretzi and examined the temporal and spatial expressions of this gene during embryogenesis using Northern blots and in situ hybridization. Maternal AP transcripts were detected in oocytes, cleaving-stage embryos, and in gastrulae, and endoderm- specific AP transcripts dramatically increased about 14 times from the neurula stage to the larval stage in endoderm precursor cells. These results suggest that the differentiation of endoderm is primarily correlated with the activation of zygotic transcription of the AP gene, presumably by egg cytoplasmic factors, similar to how muscle and epidermis are believed to develop.
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