Live imaging and morphometric analysis of embryonic development in the ascidian Ciona intestinalis

Jerry M. Rhee, Izumi Oda-Ishii, Yale J. Passamaneck, Anna Katerina Hadjantonakis, Anna Di Gregorio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ascidian Ciona intestinalis is one of the model organisms of choice for comparative investigations of chordate development and for unraveling the molecular mechanisms underlying morphogenesis and cell fate specification. Taking advantage of the availability of various genetically encoded fluorescent proteins and of defined cis-regulatory elements, we combined transient transgenesis with laser scanning confocal imaging to acquire and quantitate 3D time-lapse data from living Ciona embryos. We used Ciona tissue-specific enhancers to drive expression of spectrally distinct fluorescent protein reporters to label and simultaneously visualize axially and paraxially positioned mesodermal derivatives, as well as neural precursors in individual embryos. We observed morphogenetic movements, without perturbing development, from the early gastrula throughout the larval stage, including gastrulation, neurulation, convergent extension of the presumptive notochord, and tail elongation. These multidimensional data allowed us to establish a reference system of metrics to quantify key developmental events including blastopore closure and muscle extension. The approach we describe can be used to document morphogenetic cell and tissue rearrangements in living embryos and paves the way for a live digitized anatomical atlas of Ciona.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-147
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2005


  • Ascidian
  • Brachyury
  • Ciona
  • Confocal
  • Fluorescent proteins
  • Forkhead
  • Imaging
  • Muscle
  • Nervous system
  • Notochord
  • Snail

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology
  • Cell Biology


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