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A single-cell analysis of the molecular lineage of chordate embryogenesis

By Tengjiao Zhang, Yichi Xu, Kaoru Imai, Teng Fei, Guilin Wang, Bo Dong, Tianwei Yu, Yutaka Satou, Weiyang Shi, Zhirong Bao

Posted 03 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.02.966440 (published DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc4773)

In multicellular organisms, a single zygote develops along divergent lineages to produce distinct cell types. What governs these processes is central to the understanding of cell fate specification and stem cell engineering. Here we used the protochordate model Ciona savignyi to determine gene expression profiles of every cell of single embryos from fertilization through the onset of gastrulation and provided a comprehensive map of chordate early embryonic lineage specification. We identified 47 cell types across 8 developmental stages up to the 110-cell stage in wild type embryos and 8 fate transformations at the 64-cell stage upon FGF-MAPK inhibition. The identities of all cell types were evidenced by in situ expression pattern of marker genes and expected number of cells based on the invariant lineage. We found that, for the majority of asymmetrical cell divisions, the bipotent mother cell shows predominantly the gene signature of one of the daughter fates, with the other daughter being induced by subsequent signaling. Our data further indicated that the asymmetric segregation of mitochondria in some of these divisions does not depend on the concurrent fate inducing FGF-MAPK signaling. In the notochord, which is an evolutionary novelty of chordates, the convergence of cell fate from two disparate lineages revealed modular structure in the gene regulatory network beyond the known master regulator T/Brachyury. Comparison to single cell transcriptomes of the early mouse embryo showed a clear match of cell types at the tissue level and supported the hypothesis of developmental-genetic toolkit. This study provides a high-resolution single cell dataset to understand chordate embryogenesis and the relationship between fate trajectories and the cell lineage.

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