Lhx3 genes are members of one of the six subfamilies of the LIM class homeobox genes. In ascidians, Lhx3 is known to play a critical role in endoderm differentiation, while in vertebrates Lhx3 is involved in the development of pituitary and subsets of motor neurons. It has been shown recently, using RT-PCR analysis, that two transcriptional isoforms a and b are differentially expressed during the larval development of Ciona intestinalis (Christiaen et al., 2009). The present study provides an in-depth description of Lhx3 gene expression during the development of the two remote ascidian species, C. intestinalis and Halocynthia roretzi; for this, 5′RACE and whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH) were employed. In both species, maternal expression of Lhx3a, but not Lhx3b, is evident. In H. roretzi, the maternal Lhx3a transcripts have been detected by WISH in the animal half of early cleavage stage embryos. In both species, transcriptional isoform a is also zygotically expressed in the sensory vesicle and the visceral ganglion lineages from the neurula stage onward. By contrast, Lhx3b transcripts are expressed only zygotically and localized in the endoderm, notochord and mesenchyme lineages during cleavage stage. Lhx3a, but not Lhx3b, transcripts are subjected to trans-splicing. Additionally, in C. intestinalis, other variations in the 5′ region have been identified among Lhx3a transcripts. Although some differences are present, over-all developmental expression of Lhx3 is rather well conserved between the two ascidian species, which is quite different from that of vertebrate counterparts.
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