Members of the T-box family of transcription factors share an evolutionary conserved DNA-binding domain and play significant roles in various processes of embryonic development. Vertebrate T-box genes are categorized into the following five major subfamilies (eight groups), depending on sequence similarities: Brachyury, Tbx1 (Tbx1/10, Tbx15/18/22, Tbx20), Tbx2/3/4/5 (Tbx2/3 and Tbx4/5), Tbx6, and Tbr/Eomes/TBX21. Ascidians are primitive chordates, and their tadpole larva are considered to represent the simplified and basic body plan of vertebrates. In addition, it has been revealed that the ascidian genome contains the basic ancestral complement of genes involved in development. The present characterization of cDNAs and survey of the Ciona intestinalis draft genome demonstrated that the Ciona genome contains a single copy gene for each of the Brachyury, Tbx1/10, Tbx15/18/22, Tbx20, Tbx2/3, and Tbr/Eomes/TBX21 groups, and at least three copies of the Tbx6 subfamily. Each of the Ciona T-box genes shows a characteristic expression pattern, although that of Tbx20 was not determined in the present study. These results provide basic information that will be useful for future studies of the function of each gene, genetic cascades of different T-box genes, and genome-wide surveys of evolutionary changes in the T-box gene structure and organization in this primitive chordate.
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