The synapsin gene family in basal chordates: evolutionary perspectives in metazoans
1 Department of Biology, University of Genoa, Viale Benedetto XV 5, 16132, Genova, Italy
2 Department of Biology, University of Milan, Via Celoria 26, I-20133, Milan, Italy
3 Department of Experimental Medicine (DIMES), Section of Human Physiology, University of Genoa, Italy
4 Istituto Nazionale di Neuroscienze, Viale Benedetto XV 3, 16132, Genova, Italy
5 Department of Neuroscience and Brain Technologies, The Italian Institute of Technology, Via Morego 30, 16163 Genova, Italy
BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:32 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-32Published: 29 January 2010
Synapsins are neuronal phosphoproteins involved in several functions correlated with both neurotransmitter release and synaptogenesis. The comprehension of the basal role of the synapsin family is hampered in vertebrates by the existence of multiple synapsin genes. Therefore, studying homologous genes in basal chordates, devoid of genome duplication, could help to achieve a better understanding of the complex functions of these proteins.
In this study we report the cloning and characterization of the Ciona intestinalis and amphioxus Branchiostoma floridae synapsin transcripts and the definition of their gene structure using available C. intestinalis and B. floridae genomic sequences. We demonstrate the occurrence, in both model organisms, of a single member of the synapsin gene family. Full-length synapsin genes were identified in the recently sequenced genomes of phylogenetically diverse metazoans. Comparative genome analysis reveals extensive conservation of the SYN locus in several metazoans. Moreover, developmental expression studies underline that synapsin is a neuronal-specific marker in basal chordates and is expressed in several cell types of PNS and in many, if not all, CNS neurons.
Our study demonstrates that synapsin genes are metazoan genes present in a single copy per genome, except for vertebrates. Moreover, we hypothesize that, during the evolution of synapsin proteins, new domains are added at different stages probably to cope up with the increased complexity in the nervous system organization. Finally, we demonstrate that protochordate synapsin is restricted to the post-mitotic phase of CNS development and thereby is a good marker of postmitotic neurons.