The colonial tunicate Botrylloides leachii is exceptional at regenerating from a piece of vascular tunic after loss of all adults from the colony. Previous transcriptome analyses indicate a brief period of healing before regeneration of a new adult (zooid) in as little as 8-10 days. However, there is little understanding of how the resulting changes to gene expression, required to drive regeneration, are initiated and how the overall process is regulated. Rapid changes to transcription often occur in response to chromatin changes, mediated by histone modifications such as histone acetylation. Here, we investigated a group of key epigenetic modifiers, histone deacetylases (HDAC) that are known to play an important role in many biological processes such as development, healing and regeneration.
Through our transcriptome data, we identified and quantified the expression levels of HDAC and histone acetyltransferase (HAT) enzymes during whole body regeneration (WBR). To determine if HDAC activity is required for WBR, we inhibited its action using valproic acid (VPA) and Trichostatin A (TSA). HDAC inhibition prevented the final morphological changes normally associated with WBR and resulted in aberrant gene expression. B. leachii genes including Slit2, TGF-, Piwi and Fzd4 all showed altered mRNA levels upon HDAC inhibition in comparison to the control samples. Additionally, atypical expression of Bl_Piwi was found in immunocytes upon HDAC inhibition.
Together, these results show that HDAC function, specifically HDAC I/IIa class enzymes, are vital for B. leachii to undergo WBR successfully.