Morphogenetic pattern formation during ascidian notochord formation is regulative and highly robust
The ascidian notochord forms through simultaneous invagination and convergent extension of a monolayer epithelial plate. Here we combine micromanipulation with time lapse and confocal microscopy to examine how notochord-intrinsic morphogenetic behaviors and interactions with surrounding tissues, determine these global patterns of movement. We show that notochord rudiments isolated at the 64-cell stage divide and become motile with normal timing; but, in the absence of interactions with
... hordal tissues, they neither invaginate nor converge and extend. We find that notochord formation is robust in the sense that no particular neighboring tissue is required for notochord formation. Basal contact with either neural plate or anterior endoderm/lateral mesenchyme or posterior mesoderm are each alone sufficient to ensure that the notochord plate forms and extends a cylindrical rod. Surprisingly, the axis of convergent extension depends on the specific tissues that contact the notochord, as do other patterns of cell shape change, movement and tissue deformation that accompany notochord formation. We characterize one case in detail, namely, embryos lacking neural plates, in which a normal notochord forms but by an entirely different trajectory. Our results show ascidian notochord formation to be regulative in a fashion and to a degree never before appreciated. They suggest this regulative behavior depends on a complex interplay between morphogenetic tendencies intrinsic to the notochord plate and instructive and permissive interactions with surrounding tissues. We discuss mechanisms that could account for these data and what they imply about notochord morphogenesis and its evolution within the chordate phylum.