Islet is a key determinant of ascidian palp morphogenesis.
The anterior-most ectoderm of ascidian larvae contains the adhesive papillae, or palps, which play an important role in triggering the metamorphosis of swimming tadpoles. In Ciona intestinalis, the palps consist of three conical protrusions within a field of thickened epithelium that form late in embryogenesis, as tailbuds mature into larvae. The palp protrusions express the LIM-homeodomain transcription factor Islet. Protrusion occurs through differential cell elongation, probably mediated by Islet, as we find that ectopic expression of Islet is sufficient to promote cell lengthening. FGF signaling is required for both Islet expression and palp morphogenesis. Importantly, we show that Islet expression can rescue the palp-deficient phenotype that results from inhibition of FGF signaling. We conclude that Islet is a key regulatory factor governing morphogenesis of the palps. It is conceivable that Islet is also essential for the cellular morphogenesis of placode-derived sensory neurons in vertebrates.