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Ono, H, Koop D, Holland LZ.  2018.  Nodal and Hedgehog synergize in gill slit formation during development of the cephalochordate Branchiostoma floridae. Development. 145   10.1242/dev.162586   AbstractWebsite

The larval pharynx of the cephalochordate Branchiostoma (amphioxus) is asymmetrical. The mouth is on the left, and endostyle and gill slits are on the right. At the neurula, Nodal and Hedgehog (Hh) expression becomes restricted to the left. To dissect their respective roles in gill slit formation, we inhibited each pathway separately for 20 min at intervals during the neurula stage, before gill slits penetrate, and monitored the effects on morphology and expression of pharyngeal markers. The results pinpoint the short interval spanning the gastrula/neurula transition as the critical period for specification and positioning of future gill slits. Thus, reduced Nodal signaling shifts the gill slits ventrally, skews the pharyngeal domains of Hh, Pax1/9, Pax2/5/8, Six1/2 and IrxC towards the left, and reduces Hh and Tbx1/10 expression in endoderm and mesoderm, respectively. Nodal auto-regulates. Decreased Hh signaling does not affect gill slit positions or Hh or Nodal expression, but it does reduce the domain of Gli, the Hh target, in the pharyngeal endoderm. Thus, during the neurula stage, Nodal and Hh cooperate in gill slit development - Hh mediates gill slit formation and Nodal establishes their left-right position.

Holland, ND, Holland LZ.  2017.  The ups and downs of amphioxus biology: a history. International Journal of Developmental Biology. 61:575-583.   10.1387/ijdb.160395LH   AbstractWebsite

Humans (at least a select few) have long known about the cephalochordate amphioxus, first as something to eat and later as a subject for scientific study. The rate of publication on these animals has waxed and waned several times. The first big surge, in the late nineteenth century, was stimulated by Darwin's evolutionary ideas and by Kowalevsky's embryologic findings suggesting that an amphioxus-like creature might have bridged the gap between the invertebrates and the vertebrates. Interest declined sharply in the early twentieth century and remained low for the next 50 years. An important contributing factor (in addition to inhibition by two world wars and the Great Depression) was the indifference of the new evolutionary synthesis toward broad phylogenetic problems like the origin of the vertebrates. Then, during the 1960s and 1970s, interest in amphioxus resurged, driven especially by increased government support for basic science as well as opportunities presented by electron microscopy. After faltering briefly in the 1980s (electron microscopists were running out of amphioxus tissues to study), a third and still-continuing period of intensive amphioxus research began in the early 1990s, stimulated by the advent of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) and genomics. The volume of studies peaked in 2008 with the publication of the genome of the Florida amphioxus. Since then, although the number of papers per year has dropped somewhat, sequencing of additional genomes and transcriptomes of several species of amphioxus (both in the genus Branchiostoma and in a second genus, Asymmetron) is providing the raw material for addressing the major unanswered question of the relationship between genotype and phenotype.

Yue, JX, Kozmikova I, Ono H, Nossa CW, Kozmik Z, Putnam NH, Yu JK, Holland LZ.  2016.  Conserved noncoding elements in the most distant genera of cephalochordates: The Goldilocks principle. Genome Biology and Evolution. 8:2387-2405.   10.1093/gbe/evw158   AbstractWebsite

Cephalochordates, the sister group of vertebrates + tunicates, are evolving particularly slowly. Therefore, genome comparisons between two congeners of Branchiostoma revealed so many conserved noncoding elements (CNEs), that it was not clear how many are functional regulatory elements. To more effectively identify CNEs with potential regulatory functions, we compared noncoding sequences of genomes of the most phylogenetically distant cephalochordate genera, Asymmetron and Branchiostoma, which diverged approximately 120-160 million years ago. We found 113,070 noncoding elements conserved between the two species, amounting to 3.3% of the genome. The genomic distribution, target gene ontology, and enriched motifs of these CNEs all suggest that many of them are probably cis-regulatory elements. More than 90% of previously verified amphioxus regulatory elements were re-captured in this study. A search of the cephalochordate CNEs around 50 developmental genes inseveral vertebrate genomes revealed eight CNEs conserved between cephalochordates and vertebrates, indicating sequence conservation over > 500 million years of divergence. The function of five CNEs was tested in reporter assays in zebrafish, and one was also tested in amphioxus. All five CNEs proved to be tissue-specific enhancers. Taken together, these findings indicate that even though Branchiostoma and Asymmetron are distantly related, as they are evolving slowly, comparisons between them are likely optimal for identifying most of their tissue-specific cis-regulatory elements laying the foundation for functional characterizations and a better understanding of the evolution of developmental regulation in cephalochordates.

Holland, LZ.  2015.  The origin and evolution of chordate nervous systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 370   10.1098/rstb.2015.0048   AbstractWebsite

In the past 40 years, comparisons of developmental gene expression and mechanisms of development (evodevo) joined comparative morphology as tools for reconstructing long-extinct ancestral forms. Unfortunately, both approaches typically give congruent answers only with closely related organisms. Chordate nervous systems are good examples. Classical studies alone left open whether the vertebrate brain was a new structure or evolved from the anterior end of an ancestral nerve cord like that of modern amphioxus. Evodevo plus electron microscopy showed that the amphioxus brain has a diencephalic forebrain, small midbrain, hindbrain and spinal cord with parts of the genetic mechanisms for the midbrain/hindbrain boundary, zona limitans intrathalamica and neural crest. Evodevo also showed how extra genes resulting from whole-genome duplications in vertebrates facilitated evolution of new structures like neural crest. Understanding how the chordate central nervous system (CNS) evolved from that of the ancestral deuterostome has been truly challenging. The majority view is that this ancestor had a CNS with a brain that gave rise to the chordate CNS and, with loss of a discrete brain, to one of the two hemichordate nerve cords. The minority view is that this ancestor had no nerve cord; those in chordates and hemichordates evolved independently. New techniques such as phylostratigraphy may help resolve this conundrum.

Koop, D, Chen J, Theodosiou M, Carvalho JE, Alvarez S, de Lera AR, Holland LZ, Schubert M.  2014.  Roles of retinoic acid and Tbx1/10 in pharyngeal segmentation: amphioxus and the ancestral chordate condition. Evodevo. 5   10.1186/2041-9139-5-36   AbstractWebsite

Background: Although chordates descend from a segmented ancestor, the evolution of head segmentation has been very controversial for over 150 years. Chordates generally possess a segmented pharynx, but even though anatomical evidence and gene expression analyses suggest homologies between the pharyngeal apparatus of invertebrate chordates, such as the cephalochordate amphioxus, and vertebrates, these homologies remain contested. We, therefore, decided to study the evolution of the chordate head by examining the molecular mechanisms underlying pharyngeal morphogenesis in amphioxus, an animal lacking definitive neural crest. Results: Focusing on the role of retinoic acid ( RA) in post-gastrulation pharyngeal morphogenesis, we found that during gastrulation, RA signaling in the endoderm is required for defining pharyngeal and non-pharyngeal domains and that this process involves active degradation of RA anteriorly in the embryo. Subsequent extension of the pharyngeal territory depends on the creation of a low RA environment and is coupled to body elongation. RA further functions in pharyngeal segmentation in a regulatory network involving the mutual inhibition of RA-and Tbx1/10-dependent signaling. Conclusions: These results indicate that the involvement of RA signaling and its interactions with Tbx1/10 in head segmentation preceded the evolution of neural crest and were thus likely present in the ancestral chordate. Furthermore, developmental comparisons between different deuterostome models suggest that the genetic mechanisms for pharyngeal segmentation are evolutionary ancient and very likely predate the origin of chordates.

Koop, D, Holland LZ, Setiamarga D, Schubert M, Holland ND.  2011.  Tail regression induced by elevated retinoic acid signaling in amphioxus larvae occurs by tissue remodeling, not cell death. Evolution & Development. 13:427-435.   10.1111/j.1525-142X.2011.00501.x   AbstractWebsite

The vitamin A derived morphogen retinoic acid (RA) is known to function in the regulation of tissue proliferation and differentiation. Here, we show that exogenous RA applied to late larvae of the invertebrate chordate amphioxus can reverse some differentiated states. Although treatment with the RA antagonist BMS009 has no obvious effect on late larvae of amphioxus, administration of excess RA alters the morphology of the posterior end of the body. The anus closes over, and gut contents accumulate in the hindgut. In addition, the larval tail fin regresses, although little apoptosis takes place. This fin normally consists of columnar epidermal cells, each characterized by a ciliary rootlet running all the way from an apical centriole to the base of the cell and likely contributing substantial cytoskeletal support. After a few days of RA treatment, the rootlet becomes disrupted, and the cell shape changes from columnar to cuboidal. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) shows fragments of the rootlet in the basal cytoplasm of the cuboidal cell. A major component of the ciliary rootlet in amphioxus is the protein Rootletin, which is encoded by a single AmphiRootletin gene. This gene is highly expressed in the tail epithelial cells of control larvae, but becomes downregulated after about a day of RA treatment, and the breakup of the ciliary rootlet soon follows. The effect of excess RA on these epidermal cells of the larval tail in amphioxus is unlike posterior regression in developing zebrafish, where elevated RA signaling alters connective tissues of mesodermal origin. In contrast, however, the RA-induced closure of the amphioxus anus has parallels in the RA-induced caudal regression syndrome of mammals.

Koop, D, Holland ND, Semon M, Alvarez S, de Lera AR, Laudet V, Holland LZ, Schubert M.  2010.  Retinoic acid signaling targets Hox genes during the amphioxus gastrula stage: Insights into early anterior-posterior patterning of the chordate body plan. Developmental Biology. 338:98-106.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.11.016   AbstractWebsite

Previous studies of vertebrate development have shown that retinoic acid (RA) signaling at the gastrula stage strongly influences anterior-posterior (A-P) patterning of the neurula and later stages. However, much less is known about the more immediate effects of RA signaling on gene transcription and developmental patterning at the gastrula stage. To investigate the targets of RA signaling during the gastrula stage, we used the basal chordate amphioxus, in which gastrulation involves very minimal tissue movements. First, we determined the effect of altered RA signaling on expression of 42 genes (encoding transcription factors and components of major signaling cascades) known to be expressed in restricted domains along the A-P axis during the gastrula and early neurula stage. Of these 42 genes, the expression domains during gastrulation of only four (Hox1, Hox3, HNF3-1 and Wnt3) were spatially altered by exposure of the embryos to excess RA or to the RA antagonist BMS009. Moreover, blocking protein synthesis with puromycin before adding RA or BMS009 showed that only three of these genes (Hox1, Hox3 and HNF3-1) are direct RA targets at the gastrula stage. From these results we conclude that in the amphioxus gastrula RA signaling primarily acts via regulation of Hox transcription to establish positional identities along the A-P axis and that Hox1, Hox3, HNF3-1 and Wnt3 constitute a basal module of RA action during chordate gastrulation. (C) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Holland, LZ, Holland ND, Gilland E.  2008.  Amphioxus and the evolution of head segmentation. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 48:630-646.   10.1093/icb/icn060   AbstractWebsite

Whether or not the vertebrate head is fundamentally segmented has been controversial for over 150 years. Beginning in the late 19th century, segmentalist theories proposed that the vertebrate head evolved from an amphioxus-like ancestor in which mesodermal somites extended the full length of the body with remnants of segmentation persisting as the mesodermal head cavities of sharks and lampreys. Antisegmentalists generally argued either that the vertebrate ancestors never had any mesodermal segmentation anteriorly or that they lost it before the origin of the vertebrates; in either case, the earliest vertebrates had an unsegmented head and the embryonic cranial mesoderm of vertebrates is at best pseudo-segmented, evolving independently of any pre-vertebrate segmental pattern. Recent morphologic studies have generally confirmed the accuracy of the major classical studies of head development in lampreys and sharks, yet disagree with their theoretical conclusions regarding the evolution of head segmentation. Studies of developmental genes in amphioxus and vertebrates, which have demonstrated conservation of the mechanisms of anteriorposterior patterning in the two groups, have shed new light on this controversy. Most pertinently, some homologs of genes expressed in the anterior amphioxus somites, which form as outpocketings of the gut, are also expressed in the walls of the head cavities of lampreys, which form similarly, and in their major derivatives (the velar muscles) as well as in the eye and jaw muscles of bony gnathostomes, which derive from unsegmented head mesoderm. These muscles share gene expression with the corresponding muscles of the shark, which derive from the walls of head cavities that form, not as outpocketings of the gut, but as secondary cavities within solid blocks of tissue. While molecular data that can be compared across all the relevant taxa remain limited, they are consistent with an evolutionary scenario in which the cranial paraxial mesoderm of the lamprey and shark evolved from the anterior somites of an amphioxus-like ancestor. Although, bony vertebrates have lost the mesodermal head segments present in the shark and lamprey, their remnants persist in the muscles of the eye and jaw.

Short, S, Holland LZ.  2008.  The evolution of alternative splicing in the Pax family: The view from the basal chordate amphioxus. Journal of Molecular Evolution. 66:605-620.   10.1007/s00239-008-9113-5   AbstractWebsite

Pax genes encode transcription factors critical for metazoan development. Large-scale gene duplication with subsequent gene losses during vertebrate evolution has resulted in two human genes for each of the Pax1/9, Pax3/7, and Pax4/6 subfamilies and three for the Pax2/5/8 subfamily, compared to one each in the cephalochordate amphioxus. In addition, alternative splicing occurs in vertebrate Pax transcripts from all four subfamilies, and many splice forms are known to have functional importance. To better understand the evolution of alternative splicing within the Pax family, we systematically surveyed transcripts of the four amphioxus Pax genes. We have found alternative splicing in every gene. Comparisons with vertebrates suggest that the number of alternative splicing events per gene has not decreased following duplication; there are comparable levels in the four amphioxus Pax genes as in each gene of the equivalent vertebrate families. Thus, the total number of isoforms for the nine vertebrate genes is considerably higher than for the four amphioxus genes. Most alternative splicing events appear to have arisen since the divergence of amphioxus and vertebrate lineages, suggesting that differences in alternative splicing could account for divergent functions of the highly conserved Pax genes in both lineages. However, several events predicted to dramatically alter known functional domains are conserved between amphioxus and vertebrates, suggestive of a common chordate function. Our results, together with previous studies of vertebrate Pax genes, support the theory that alternative splicing impacts functional motifs more than gene duplication followed by divergence.

Holland, LZ, Albalat R, Azumi K, Benito-Gutierrez E, Blow MJ, Bronner-Fraser M, Brunet F, Butts T, Candiani S, Dishaw LJ, Ferrier DEK, Garcia-Fernandez J, Gibson-Brown JJ, Gissi C, Godzik A, Hallbook F, Hirose D, Hosomichi K, Ikuta T, Inoko H, Kasahara M, Kasamatsu J, Kawashima T, Kimura A, Kobayashi M, Kozmik Z, Kubokawa K, Laudet V, Litman GW, McHardy AC, Meulemans D, Nonaka M, Olinski RP, Pancer Z, Pennacchio LA, Pestarino M, Rast JP, Rigoutsos I, Robinson-Rechavi M, Roch G, Saiga H, Sasakura Y, Satake M, Satou Y, Schubert M, Sherwood N, Shiina T, Takatori N, Tello J, Vopalensky P, Wada S, Xu AL, Ye YZ, Yoshida K, Yoshizaki F, Yu JK, Zhang Q, Zmasek CM, de Jong PJ, Osoegawa K, Putnam NH, Rokhsar DS, Satoh N, Holland PWH.  2008.  The amphioxus genome illuminates vertebrate origins and cephalochordate biology. Genome Research. 18:1100-1111.   10.1101/gr.073676.107   AbstractWebsite

Cephalochordates, urochordates, and vertebrates evolved from a common ancestor over 520 million years ago. To improve our understanding of chordate evolution and the origin of vertebrates, we intensively searched for particular genes, gene families, and conserved noncoding elements in the sequenced genome of the cephalochordate Branchiostoma floridae, commonly called amphioxus or lancelets. Special attention was given to homeobox genes, opsin genes, genes involved in neural crest development, nuclear receptor genes, genes encoding components of the endocrine and immune systems, and conserved cis-regulatory enhancers. The amphioxus genome contains a basic set of chordate genes involved in development and cell signaling, including a fifteenth Hox gene. This set includes many genes that were co-opted in vertebrates for new roles in neural crest development and adaptive immunity. However, where amphioxus has a single gene, vertebrates often have two, three, or four paralogs derived from two whole-genome duplication events. In addition, several transcriptional enhancers are conserved between amphioxus and vertebrates-a very wide phylogenetic distance. In contrast, urochordate genomes have lost many genes, including a diversity of homeobox families and genes involved in steroid hormone function. The amphioxus genome also exhibits derived features, including duplications of opsins and genes proposed to function in innate immunity and endocrine systems. Our results indicate that the amphioxus genome is elemental to an understanding of the biology and evolution of nonchordate deuterostomes, invertebrate chordates, and vertebrates.

Holland, LZ, Short S.  2008.  Gene Duplication, Co-Option and Recruitment during the Origin of the Vertebrate Brain from the Invertebrate Chordate Brain. Brain Behavior and Evolution. 72:91-105.   10.1159/000151470   AbstractWebsite

The brain of the basal chordate amphioxus has been compared to the vertebrate diencephalic forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain and spinal cord on the basis of the cell architecture from serial electron micrographs and patterns of developmental gene expression. In addition, genes specifying the neural plate and neural plate border as well as Gbx and Otx, that position the midbrain/hindbrain boundary (MHB), are expressed in comparable patterns in amphioxus and vertebrates. However, migratory neural crest is lacking in amphioxus, and although it has homologs of the genes that specify neural crest, they are not expressed at the edges of the amphioxus neural plate. Similarly, amphioxus has the genes that specify organizer properties of the MHB, but they are not expressed at the Gbx/Otx boundary as in vertebrates. Thus, the genetic machinery that created migratory neural crest and an MHB organizer was present in the ancestral chordate, but only co-opted for these new roles in vertebrates. Analyses with the amphioxus genome project strongly support the idea of two rounds of whole genome duplication with subsequent gene losses in the vertebrate lineage. Duplicates of developmental genes were preferentially retained. Although some genes apparently acquired roles in neural crest prior to these genome duplications, other key genes (e. g., FoxD3 in neural crest and Wnt1 at the MHB) were recruited into the respective gene networks after one or both genome duplications, suggesting that such an expansion of the genetic toolkit was critical for the evolution of these structures. The toolkit has also increased by alternative splicing. Contrary to the general rule, for at least one gene family with key roles in neural crest and the MHB, namely Pax genes, alternative splicing has not decreased subsequent to gene duplication. Thus, vertebrates have a much larger number of proteins available for mediating new functions in these tissues. The creation of new splice forms typically changes protein structure more than evolution of the protein after gene duplication. The functions of particular isoforms of key proteins expressed at the MHB and in neural crest have only just begun to be studied. Their roles in modulating gene networks may turn out to rival gene duplication for facilitating the evolution of structures such as neural crest and the MHB. Copyright (c) 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel

Rasmussen, SLK, Holland LZ, Schubert M, Beaster-Jones L, Holland ND.  2007.  Amphioxus AmphiDelta: Evolution of delta protein structure, segmentation, and neurogenesis. Genesis. 45:113-122.   10.1002/dvg.20278   AbstractWebsite

The amphioxus genome has a single Delta gene (AmphiDelta) encoding a protein 766 amino acids long. Comparison of Delta proteins of amphioxus and other animals indicates that AmphiDelta retains features of a basal bilaterian Delta protein-in having nine epidermal growth factor (EGF) repeats and also in having char acteristic numbers of amino acids separating successive cysteines between and within EGF repeats. During development, AmphiDelta is expressed in the forming somites, in some regions of pharyngeal endoderm, and in cells (presumably differentiating neurons) scattered in both the neural plate and ectoderm. Expression is strongly associated with cells initiating movements to separate themselves from parent epithelia, either en masse by evagination (endoderm and mesoderm) or by delamination as isolated cells (ectoderm). The AmphiDelta-expressing cells delaminating from the ectoderm apparently migrate beneath it as they begin differentiating into probable sensory neurons, suggesting a scenario for the evolutionary origin of the placode-derived neurons of vertebrate cranial ganglia. genesis 45:113-122, 2007. Published 2007 Wiley-Liss, lnc.(dagger)

Schubert, M, Holland ND, Laudet V, Holland LZ.  2006.  A retinoic acid-Hox hierarchy controls both anterior/posterior patterning and neuronal specification in the developing central nervous system of the cephalochordate amphioxus. Developmental Biology. 296:190-202.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.04.457   AbstractWebsite

Retinoic acid (RA) mediates both anterior/posterior patterning and neuronal specification in the vertebrate central nervous system (CNS). However, the molecular mechanisms downstream of RA are not well understood. To investigate these mechanisms, we used the invertebrate chordate amphioxus, in which the CNS, although containing only about 20,000 neurons in adults, like the vertebrate CNS, has a forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain, and spinal cord and is regionalized by RA-signaling. Here we show, first, that domains of genes with expression normally limited to diencephalon and midbrain are generally not affected by altered RA-signaling, second, that contrary to previous reports, not only Hox1, 3, and 4, but also Hox2 and Hox6 are collinearly expressed in the amphioxus CNS, and third, that collinear expression of all these Hox genes is controlled by RA-signaling. Finally, we show that Hox1 is involved in mediating both the role of RA-signaling in regionalization of the hindbrain and in specification of hindbrain motor neurons. Thus, morpholino knock-down of the single amphioxus Hox1 mimics the effects of treatments with an RA-antagonist. This analysis establishes RA-dependent regulation of collinear Hox expression as a feature common to the chordate CNS and indicates that the RA-Hox hierarchy functions both in proper anterior/posterior patterning of the developing CNS and in specification of neuronal identity. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Bardet, PL, Schubert M, Horard B, Holland LZ, Laudet V, Holland ND, Vanacker JM.  2005.  Expression of estrogen-receptor related receptors in amphioxus and zebrafish: implications for the evolution of posterior brain segmentation at the invertebrate-to-vertebrate transition. Evolution & Development. 7:223-233.   10.1111/j.1525-142X.2005.05025.x   AbstractWebsite

The evolutionary origin of vertebrate hindbrain segmentation is unclear since the amphioxus, the closest living invertebrate relative to the vertebrates, possesses a hindbrain homolog that displays no gross morphological segmentation. Three of the estrogen-receptor related (ERR) receptors are segmentally expressed in the zebrafish hindbrain, suggesting that their common ancestor was expressed in a similar, reiterated manner. We have also cloned and determined the developmental expression of the single homolog of the vertebrate ERR genes in the amphioxus (AmphiERR). This gene is also expressed in a segmented manner in a region considered homologous to the vertebrate hindbrain. In contrast to the expression of amphioxus islet (a LIM-homeobox gene that also labels motoneurons), AmphiERR expression persists longer in the hindbrain homolog and does not later extend to additional posterior cells. In addition, AmphiERR and one of its vertebrate homologs (ERR alpha) are expressed in the developing somitic musculature of amphioxus and zebrafish, respectively. Altogether, our results are consistent with fine structural evidence suggesting that the amphioxus hindbrain is segmented, and indicate that chordate ERR gene expression is a marker for both hindbrain and muscle segmentation. Furthermore, our data support an evolution model of chordate brain segmentation: originally, the program for anterior segmentation in the protochordate ancestors of the vertebrates resided in the developing axial mesoderm which imposed reiterated patterning on the adjacent neural tube; during early vertebrate evolution, this segmentation program was transferred to and controlled by the neural tube.

Holland, LZ, Laudet V, Schubert M.  2004.  The chordate amphioxus: an emerging model organism for developmental biology. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. 61:2290-2308.   10.1007/s00018-004-4075-2   AbstractWebsite

The cephalochordate amphioxus is the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates. It is vertebrate-like in having a dorsal, hollow nerve cord, notochord, segmental muscles, pharyngeal gill slits and a post-anal tail that develops from a tail bud. However, amphioxus is less complex than vertebrates, lacking neural crest and having little or no mesenchyme. The genetic programs patterning the amphioxus embryo are also similar to those patterning vertebrate embryos, although the amphioxus genome lacks the extensive gene duplications characteristic of vertebrates. This relative structural and genomic simplicity in a vertebrate-like organism makes amphioxus ideal as a model organism for understanding mechanisms of vertebrate development.

Yu, JK, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  2004.  Tissue-specific expression of FoxD reporter constructs in amphioxus embryos. Developmental Biology. 274:452-461.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2004.07.010   AbstractWebsite

Cephalochordates (amphioxus), the closest living invertebrate relatives of the vertebrates, are key to understanding the evolution of developmental mechanisms during the invertebrate-to-vertebrate transition. However, a major impediment to amphioxus as a model organism for developmental biology has been the inability to introduce transgenes or other macromolecules into the embryos. Here, we report the development of a reproducible method for microinjection of amphioxus eggs. Specifically, we show that expression of a LacZ reporter construct including 6.3 kb of AmphiFoxD upstream regulatory DNA recapitulates expression of the endogenous gene in the nerve cord, somites, and notochord. We have also identified the 1.6 kb at the 5' end of this region as essential for expression in the first two of these domains and the 4.7 kb at the 3' end as sufficient for expression in the notochord. This study, which is the first report of a method for introduction of large molecules such as DNA into amphioxus embryos, opens the way for studies of gene regulation and function in amphioxus and for comparative studies with vertebrates to understand the relationship between the extensive gene duplications that occurred within the vertebrate lineage and the evolution of vertebrate innovations such as neural crest. (C) 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Schubert, M, Holland ND, Escriva H, Holland LZ, Laudet V.  2004.  Retinoic acid influences anteroposterior positioning of epidermal sensory neurons and their gene expression in a developing chordate (amphioxus). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101:10320-10325.   10.1073/pnas.0403216101   AbstractWebsite

In developing chordates, retinoic acid (RA) signaling patterns the rostrocaudal body axis globally and affects gene expression locally in some differentiating cell populations. Here we focus on development of epidermal sensory neurons in an invertebrate chordate (amphioxus) to determine how RA signaling influences their rostrocaudal distribution and gene expression (for AmphiCoe, a neural precursor gene; for amphioxus islet and AmphiERR, two neural differentiation genes; and for AmphiHox1,-3, -4, and -6). Treatments with RA or an RA antagonist (BMS009) shift the distribution of developing epidermal neurons anteriorly or posteriorly, respectively. These treatments also affect gene expression patterns in the epidermal neurons, suggesting that RA levels may influence specification of neuronal subtypes. Although colinear expression of Hox genes is well known for the amphioxus central nervous system,we find an unexpected comparable colinearity for AmphiHox1, -3, -4, and -6 in the developing epidermis; moreover, RA levels affect the anteroposterior extent of these Hox expression domains, suggesting that RA signaling controls a colinear Hox code for anteroposterior patterning of the amphioxus epidermis. Thus, in amphioxus, the developing peripheral nervous system appears to be structured by mechanisms parallel to those that structure the central nervous system. One can speculate that, during evolution, an ancestral deuterostome that structured its panepidermal nervous system with an RA-influenced Hox code gave rise to chordates in which this patterning mechanism persisted within the epidermal elements of the peripheral nervous system and was transferred to the neuroectoderm as the central nervous system condensed dorsally.

Holland, LZ, Holland ND.  1999.  Chordate origins of the vertebrate central nervous system. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 9:596-602.   10.1016/s0959-4388(99)00003-3   AbstractWebsite

Fine structural, computerized three-dimensional (3D) mapping of cell connectivity in the amphioxus nervous system and comparative molecular genetic studies of amphioxus and tunicates have provided recent insights into the phylogenetic origin of the vertebrate nervous system. The results suggest that several of the genetic mechanisms for establishing and patterning the vertebrate nervous system already operated in the ancestral chordate and that the nerve cord of the proximate invertebrate ancestor of the vertebrates included a diencephalon, midbrain, hindbrain, and spinal cord. In contrast, the telencephalon, a midbrain-hindbrain boundary region with organizer properties, and the definitive neural crest appear to be vertebrate innovations.

Holland, ND, Holland LZ.  1999.  Amphioxus and the utility of molecular genetic data for hypothesizing body part homologies between distantly related animals. American Zoologist. 39:630-640. AbstractWebsite

Expression domains of developmental genes can indicate body part homologies between distantly related animals and give insights into interesting evolutionary questions. Two of the chief criteria for recognizing homologies are relative position with respect to surrounding body parts and special quality (for instance, a vertebrate testis, regardless of its location, is recognizable by its seminiferous cysts or tubules), When overall body plans of two animals are relatively similar, as for amphioxus versus vertebrates, body part homologies can be supported by developmental gene expression domains, which have properties of special quality and relative position. With expression patterns of AmphiNk2-1 and AmphiPax2/5/8, Re reexamine the proposed homology between the amphioxus endostyle and the vertebrate thyroid gland, and a previously good homology is made better. When body plans of animals are disparate, body part homologies supported by molecular genetic data are less convincing, because the criterion of relative position of gene expression domains becomes uncertain. Thus, when expression of amphioxus AmphiBMP2/4 is used to compare the dorsoventral axis between amphioxus and other animals, a comparison between amphioxus and vertebrates is more convincing than comparison between amphioxus and other invertebrates with disparate body plans. In spite of this difficulty, the use of developmental genetic evidence comparing animals with disparate body plans is currently putting the big picture of evolution into new perspective. For example, some molecular geneticists are non: suggesting that the last common ancestor of all bilaterian animals might have been more annelid-like than flatworm-like.

Holland, ND, Panganiban G, Henyey EL, Holland LZ.  1996.  Sequence and developmental expression of AmphiDII, an amphioxus Distal-less gene transcribed in the ectoderm, epidermis and nervous system: Insights into evolution of craniate forebrain and neural crest. Development. 122:2911-2920. AbstractWebsite

The dynamic expression patterns of the single amphioxus Distal-less homolog (AmphiDll) during development are consistent with successive roles of this gene in global regionalization of the ectoderm, establishment of the dorsoventral axis, specification of migratory epidermal cells early in neurulation and the specification of forebrain, Such a multiplicity of Distal-less functions probably represents an ancestral chordate condition and, during craniate evolution, when this gene diversified into a family of six or so members, the original functions evidently tended to be parcelled out among the descendant genes, In the amphioxus gastrula, AmphiDll is expressed throughout the animal hemisphere (presumptive ectoderm), but is soon downregulated dorsally (in the presumptive neural plate), During early neurulation, AmphiDll-expressing epidermal cells flanking the neural plate extend lamellipodia, appear to migrate over it and meet mid-dorsally, Midway in neurulation, cells near the anterior end of the neural plate begin expressing AmphiDll and, as neurulation terminates, these cells are incorporated into the dorsal part of the neural tube, which forms by a curling of the neural plate, This group of AmphiDII-expressing neural cells and a second group expressing the gene a little later and even more anteriorly in the neural tube demarcate a region that comprises the anterior three/fourths of the cerebral vesicle; this region of the amphioxus neural tube, as judged by neural expression domains of craniate Distal-less-related genes, is evidently homologous to the craniate forebrain, Our results suggest that craniates evolved from an amphioxus-like creature that had the beginnings of a forebrain and possibly a precursor of neural crest - namely, the cell population leading the epidermal overgrowth of the neural plate during early neurulation.

Holland, LZ, Holland ND.  1996.  Expression of AmphiHox-1 and AmphiPax-1 in amphioxus embryos treated with retinoic acid: Insights into evolution and patterning of the chordate nerve cord and pharynx. Development. 122:1829-1838. AbstractWebsite

Excess all-trans retinoic acid (RA) causes severe craniofacial malformations in vertebrate embryos: pharyngeal arches are fused or absent, and a rostrad expansion of Hoxb-1 expression in the hindbrain shows that anterior rhombomeres are homeotically respecified to a more posterior identity. As a corollary, neural crest migration into the pharyngeal arches is abnormal. We administered excess RA to developing amphioxus, the closest invertebrate relative of the vertebrates and thus a key organism for understanding evolution of the vertebrate body plan. In normal amphioxus, the nerve cord has only a slight anterior swelling, the cerebral vesicle, and apparently lacks migratory neural crest. Nevertheless, excess RA similarly affects amphioxus and vertebrates. The expression domain of AmphiHox-1 (homologous to mouse Hoxb-1) in the amphioxus nerve cord is also extended anteriorly. For both the amphioxus and mouse genes, excess RA causes either (1) continuous expression throughout the preotic hindbrain (mouse) and from the level of somite 7 to the anterior end of the nerve cord (amphioxus) or (2) discontinuous expression with a gap in rhombomere 3 (mouse) and a gap at the posterior end of the cerebral vesicle (amphioxus). A comparison of these expression patterns suggests that amphioxus has a homolog of the vertebrate hindbrain, both preotic and postotic. Although RA alters the expression of AmphiHox-1 expression in the amphioxus nerve cord, it does not alter the expression of AmphiHox-1 in presomitic mesoderm or of alkali myosin light chain (AmphiMlc-alk) in somites, and the axial musculature and notochord develop normally. The most striking morphogenetic effect of RA on amphioxus larvae is the failure of mouth and gill slits to form. In vertebrates effects of excess RA on pharyngeal development have been attributed solely to the abnormal migratory patterns of Hox-expressing cranial neural crest cells. This cannot be true for amphioxus because of the lack of migratory neural crest. Furthermore, expression of Hox genes in pharyngeal tissues of amphioxus has not yet been detected. However, the absence of gill slits in RA-treated amphioxus embryos correlates with an RA-induced failure of AmphiPax-1 to become down-regulated in regions of pharyngeal endoderm that would normally fuse with the overlying ectoderm. In vertebrates, RA might similarly act via Pax-1/9, also expressed in pharyngeal endoderm, to impair pharyngeal patterning.