A morphological study of nonrandom senescence in a colonial urochordate

Robert J. Lauzon, Baruch Rinkevich, C. W. Patton, Irving L. Weissman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Botryllus schlosseri is a clonally modular ascidian, in which individuals (zooids) have a finite life span that is intimately associated with a weekly budding process called blastogenesis. Every blastogenic cycle concludes with a synchronized phase of regression called takeover, during which all zooids in a colony die, primarily by apoptosis, and are replaced by a new generation of asexually derived zooids. We have previously documented that, in addition to this cyclical death phase, entire colonies undergo senescence during which all asexually derived individuals in a colony, buds and zooids, die in concert. In addition, when a specific parent colony (genet) is experimentally separated into a number of clonal replicates (ramets), ramets frequently undergo senescence simultaneously, indicating that mortality can manifest itself in nonrandom fashion. Here, we document a morphological portrait of senescence in laboratory-maintained colonies from Monterey Bay, California, that exhibit nonrandom mortality. Nonrandom senescence proceeded according to a series of characteristic changes within the colony over a period of about one week. These changes included systemic constriction and congestion of the vasculature accompanied by massive accumulation of pigment cells in the zooid body wall (mantle), blood vessels, and ampullae; gradual shrinkage of individual zooids; loss of colonial architecture, and ultimately death. At the ultrastructural level, individual cells exhibited changes typical of ischemic cell death, culminating in necrotic cell lysis rather than apoptosis. Collectively, these observations indicate that senescence is accompanied by unique morphological changes that occur systemically, and which are distinct from those occurring during takeover. We discuss our findings in relation to current experimental models of aging and the possible role of a humoral factor in bringing about the onset of senescence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-378
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Bulletin
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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