The bipolar tail neurons (BTNs) of Ciona develop according to a highly dynamic, yet highly stereotyped developmental program and thus could serve as an accessible model system for neuronal delamination, migration, and polarized axon outgrowth. Here we used FACS/RNAseq to profile the transcriptional output of Neurogenin in the BTNs, searching for candidate effectors of BTN cell behaviors. We identified several candidate genes that might play conserved roles in similar cell behaviors in other animals, including mammals. Among the more interesting candidates were several microtubule-binding proteins and TGFβ pathway antagonists. A small Gαi subunit was also found to be upregulated in migrating BTNs, and interfering with its function through expression of a dominant negative inhibited delamination and a complete epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. We propose models for the regulation of BTN behaviors by the identified candidate effectors, establishing a foundation for testing effector gene functions that might be conserved in chordate neurodevelopment.
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