We characterized spontaneous Ca2+ signals in Oikopleura dioica embryos from pre-fertilization to gastrula stages following injection of GCaMP6 mRNA into unfertilized eggs. The unfertilized egg exhibited regular, transient elevations in intracellular Ca2+ concentration with an average duration of 4–6 s and an average frequency of about 1 every 2.5 min. Fertilization was accompanied by a longer Ca2+ transient that lasted several minutes. Thereafter, regular Ca2+ transients were reinstated that spread within seconds among blastomeres and gradually increased in duration (by about 50%) and decreased in frequency (by about 20%) by gastrulation. Peak amplitudes also exhibited a dynamic, with a transitory drop occurring at about the 4-cell stage and a subsequent rise. Each peak was preceded by about 15 s by a smaller and shorter Ca2+ increase (about 5% of the main peak amplitude, average duration 3 s), which we term the “minipeak”. By gastrulation, Ca2+ transients exhibited a stereotyped initiation site on either side of the 32-64-cell embryo, likely in the nascent muscle precursor cells, and spread thereafter symmetrically in a stereotyped spatial pattern that engaged blastomeres giving rise to all the major tissue lineages. The rapid spread of the transients relative to the intertransient interval created a coordinated wave that, on a coarse time scale, could be considered an approximate synchronization. Treatment with the divalent cations Ni2+ or Cd2+ gradually diminished peak amplitudes, had only moderate effects on wave frequency, but markedly disrupted wave synchronization and normal development. The T-type Ca2+ channel blocker mibefradil similarly disrupted normal development, and eliminated the minipeaks, but did not affect wave synchronization. To assess the role of gap junctions in calcium wave spread and coordination, we first characterized the expression of two Oikopleura connexins, Od-CxA and Od-CxB, both of which are expressed during pre-gastrulation and gastrula stages, and then co-injected double-stranded inhibitory RNAs together with CGaMP6 to suppress connexin expression. Connexin mRNA knockdown led to a gradual increase in Ca2+ transient peak width, a decrease of interpeak interval and a marked disruption of wave synchronization. As seen with divalent cations and mibefradil, this desynchronization was accompanied by a disruption of normal development.
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