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locascio annamariaResearcher
Section BEOM

Tel. +39 081 5833266 - +39 081 5833275
Fax: +39 081 7641355
e-mail annamaria.locascio(at)szn.it

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Research interests

"Eye regulatory network in chordate development and evolution".
How transcriptional gene networks operate during development and how they have emerged during evolution are two fundamental and interconnected questions in the evo-devo field.
To understand the origin of the camera-type vision system typical of vertebrates, its evolutionary precursors must be inferred from the photoreceptive structures present in extant non-vertebrate chordates. Ascidians occupy a unique phylogenetic position at the base of vertebrate evolution. Their ocellus-like structures function only in photoreception and not in image-forming vision and, thus, represent ideal organisms to explore the evolutionary processes leading to the appearance of the complex vertebrate camera-type eye.
The accumulation of molecular evidences showing that the main genetic pathways involved in eye specification are conserved between vertebrates and invertebrates will allow the reconstruction of the sequence through which complex vertebrate eyes evolved from simpler visual organs present in chordates. In an attempt to shed light on the evolutionary history of the chordate photoreceptive structures we are analyzing and comparing the gene regulatory network responsible for the development of the ascidian photosensing ocellus and of the teleost zebrafish eye.
By using a transcriptomic and various molecular approaches, we are trying to reconstruct the genetic cascade responsible for the development of the Ciona ocellus. The use of transgenic and recombinant embryos, together with the analysis of specific eye markers contributed to identify key components controlling photoreceptor cells specification in ascidians. Collectively these studies showed a direct connection among Neurogenin, Onecut and Rx genes and permitted the initial identification of a gene regulatory network responsible for C. intestinalis ocellus photoreceptors differentiation.
By using the zebrafish Danio rerio as model system for comparative studies, we are trying to evidence the evolutionary novelties of this genetic pathway that specifically appeared in the ascidian or vertebrate lineage.

Journal Papers

Sea Urchin Genome Sequencing Consortium. The genome of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Science 2006; 314: 941-952.

Comes S, Locascio A, Silvestre F, d’Ischia M, Russo GL, Tosti E, Branno M, Palumbo A. Regulatory roles of nitric oxide during larval development and metamorphosis in Ciona intestinalis. Dev. Biol. 2007; 306: 772-784.

Sordino P, Andreakis N, Brown ER, Leccia NI, Squarzoni P, Tarallo R, Alfano C, Caputi L, D’Ambrosio P, D’Aniello E, D’Aniello S, Maiella S, Miraglia V, Russo MT, Sorrenti G, Branno M, Cariello L, Cirino P, Locascio A, Spagnuolo A, Zanetti L, Ristoratore F. Natural Variation of Model Mutant Phenotypes in Ciona intestinalis. PLoS ONE 2008; 3: 2344

Locascio A, Ristoratore F, Spagnuolo A, Zanetti L and Branno M. Genetic perspectives on the ascidian central nervous system. Inv. Surv. J. 2009; 6: S35-S45.

D'Aniello E, Pezzotti MR, Locascio A, Branno M. Onecut is a direct neural-specific transcriptional activator of Rx in Ciona intestinalis. Dev. Biol. 2011; 355: 358-371.

Natale A, Sims C, Chiusano ML, Amoroso A, D’Aniello E, Fucci L, Krumlauf R, Branno M, Locascio A. Evolution of anterior Hox regulatory elements among chordates. BMC Evol. Biol. 2011; 11: 330.

Pezzotti MR, Locascio A, Racioppi C, Fucci L, Branno M. Auto and cross regulatory elements control Onecut expression in the ascidian nervous system. Dev. Biol. 2014; 390: 273-287.

Esposito R, Racioppi C, Pezzotti MR, Branno M, Locascio A, Ristoratore F, Spagnuolo A. The ascidian pigmented sensory organs: structures and developmental programs. Genesis 2015; 53: 15-33.

Crocetta F, Marino R, Cirino P, Macina A, Staiano L, Esposito R, Pezzotti MR, Racioppi C, Toscano F, Locascio A, Ristoratore F, Spagnuolo A, Zanetti L, Branno M, Sordino P. Mutation studies in ascidians: a review. Genesis 2015; 53:160-169.

Vassalli QA, Anishchenko E, Caputi L, Sordino P, D'Aniello S, Locascio A. Regulatory elements retained during chordate evolution: coming across tunicates. Genesis 2015; 53: 66-81.

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