Recent work in tunicate supports the similarity between the motor circuits of vertebrates and basal deuterostome lineages. To understand how the rhythmic activity in motor circuits is acquired during development of protochordate Ciona, we investigated the coordination of the motor response by identifying a single pair of oscillatory motor neurons (MN2/A10.64). The MN2 neurons had Ca2+ oscillation with an ~80-s interval that was cell autonomous even in a dissociated single cell. The Ca2+ oscillation of MN2 coincided with the early tail flick (ETF). The spikes of the membrane potential in MN2 gradually correlated with the rhythm of ipsilateral muscle contractions in ETFs. The optogenetic experiments indicated that MN2 is a necessary and sufficient component of ETFs. These results indicate that MN2 is indispensable for the early spontaneous rhythmic motor behavior of Ciona. Our findings shed light on the understanding of development and evolution of chordate rhythmical locomotion.
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