Transcription factors of the bHLH family delineate vertebrate landmarks in the nervous system of a simple chordate

Lenny J. Negrón-Piñeiro, Yushi Wu, Anna Di Gregorio

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Tunicates are marine invertebrates whose tadpole-like larvae feature a highly simplified version of the chordate body plan. Similar to their distant vertebrate relatives, tunicate larvae develop a regionalized central nervous system and form distinct neural structures, which include a rostral sensory vesicle, a motor ganglion, and a caudal nerve cord. The sensory vesicle contains a photoreceptive complex and a statocyst, and based on the comparable expression patterns of evolutionarily conserved marker genes, it is believed to include proto-hypothalamic and proto-retinal territories. The evolutionarily conserved molecular fingerprints of these landmarks of the vertebrate brain consist of genes encoding for different transcription factors, and of the gene batteries that they control, and include several members of the bHLH family. Here we review the complement of bHLH genes present in the streamlined genome of the tunicate Ciona robusta and their current classification, and summarize recent studies on proneural bHLH transcription factors and their expression territories. We discuss the possible roles of bHLH genes in establishing the molecular compartmentalization of the enticing nervous system of this unassuming chordate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1262
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Ascidian
  • BHLH
  • CNS
  • Ciona
  • Epiphysis
  • Hypophysis
  • Hypothalamus
  • Nervous system
  • Notochord
  • Sensory vesicle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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