Direct activation of a notochord cis-regulatory module by Brachyury and FoxA in the ascidian Ciona intestinalis

Yale J. Passamaneck, Lavanya Katikala, Lorena Perrone, Matthew P. Dunn, Izumi Oda-Ishii, Anna Di Gregorio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The notochord is a defining feature of the chordate body plan. Experiments in ascidian, frog and mouse embryos have shown that co-expression of Brachyury and FoxA class transcription factors is required for notochord development. However, studies on the cisregulatory sequences mediating the synergistic effects of these transcription factors are complicated by the limited knowledge of notochord genes and cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) that are directly targeted by both. We have identified an easily testable model for such investigations in a 155-bp notochord-specific CRM from the ascidian Ciona intestinalis. This CRM contains functional binding sites for both Ciona Brachyury (Ci-Bra) and FoxA (Ci-FoxA-a). By combining point mutation analysis and misexpression experiments, we demonstrate that binding of both transcription factors to this CRM is necessary and sufficient to activate transcription. To gain insights into the cis-regulatory criteria controlling its activity, we investigated the organization of the transcription factor binding sites within the 155-bp CRM. The 155-bp sequence contains two Ci-Bra binding sites with identical core sequences but opposite orientations, only one of which is required for enhancer activity. Changes in both orientation and spacing of these sites substantially affect the activity of the CRM, as clusters of identical sites found in the Ciona genome with different arrangements are unable to activate transcription in notochord cells. This work presents the first evidence of a synergistic interaction between Brachyury and FoxA in the activation of an individual notochord CRM, and highlights the importance of transcription factor binding site arrangement for its function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3679-3689
Number of pages11
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2009


  • Ascidian
  • Brachyury
  • Ciona
  • Cis-regulatory module
  • FoxA
  • Muscle
  • Notochord
  • T-box
  • Transcription

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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