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Holland, ND, Holland LZ, Holland PWH.  2015.  Scenarios for the making of vertebrates. Nature. 520:450-455.   10.1038/nature14433   AbstractWebsite

Over the past 200 years, almost every invertebrate phylum has been proposed as a starting point for evolving vertebrates. Most of these scenarios are outdated, but several are still seriously considered. The short-range transition from ancestral invertebrate chordates (similar to amphioxus and tunicates) to vertebrates is well accepted. However, longer-range transitions leading up to the invertebrate chordates themselves are more controversial. Opinion is divided between the annelid and the enteropneust scenarios, predicting, respectively, a complex or a simple ancestor for bilaterian animals. Deciding between these ideas will be facilitated by further comparative studies of multicellular animals, including enigmatic taxa such as xenacoelomorphs.

Schubert, M, Holland LZ, Stokes MD, Holland ND.  2001.  Three amphioxus Wnt genes (AmphiWnt3, AmphiWnt5, and AmphiWnt6) associated with the tail bud: The evolution of somitogenesis in chordates. Developmental Biology. 240:262-273.   10.1006/dbio.2001.0460   AbstractWebsite

The amphioxus tail bud is similar to the amphibian tail bud in having an epithelial organization without a mesenchymal component. We characterize three amphioxus Wnt genes (AmphiWnt3, AmphiWnt5, and AmphiWnt6) and show that their early expression around the blastopore can subsequently be traced into the tail bud; in vertebrate embryos, there is a similar progression of expression domains for Wnt3, Wnt5, and Wnt6 genes from the blastopore lip (or its equivalent) to the tail bud. In amphioxus, AmphiWnt3, AmphiWnt5, and AmphiWnt6 are each expressed in a specific subregion of the tail bud, tentatively suggesting that a combinatorial code of developmental gene expression may help generate specific tissues during posterior elongation and somitogenesis. In spite of similarities within their tail buds, vertebrate and amphioxus embryos differ markedly in the relation between the tail bud and the nascent somites: vertebrates have a relatively extensive zone of unsegmented mesenchyme (i.e., presomitic mesoderm) intervening between the tail bud and the forming somites, whereas the amphioxus tail bud gives rise to new somites directly. It is likely that presomitic mesoderm is a vertebrate innovation made possible by developmental interconversions between epithelium and mesenchyme that first became prominent at the dawn of vertebrate evolution. (C) 2001 Academic Press.

Holland, LZ, Kene M, Williams NA, Holland ND.  1997.  Sequence and embryonic expression of the amphioxus engrailed gene (AmphiEn): The metameric pattern of transcription resembles that of its segment-polarity homolog in Drosophila. Development. 124:1723-1732. AbstractWebsite

Vertebrate segmentation has been proposed as an evolutionary inheritance either from some metameric protostome or from a more closely related deuterostome, To address this question, we studied the developmental expression of AmphiEn, the engrailed gene of amphioxus, the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates, In neurula embryos of amphioxus, AmphiEn is expressed along the anteroposterior axis as metameric stripes, each located in the posterior part of a nascent or newly formed segment, This pattern resembles the expression stripes of the segment-polarity gene engrailed, which has a key role in establishing and maintaining the metameres in embryos of Drosophila and other metameric protostomes, Later, amphioxus embryos express AmphiEn in non-metameric patterns - transiently in the embryonic ectoderm and dorsal nerve cord. Nerve cord expression occurs in a few cells approximately midway along the rostrocaudal axis and also in a conspicuous group of anterior cells in the cerebral vesicle at a level previously identified as corresponding to the vertebrate diencephalon. Compared to vertebrate engrailed expression at the midbrain/hindbrain boundary, AmphiEn expression in the cerebral vesicle is relatively late, Thus, it is uncertain whether the cerebral vesicle expression marks the rostral end of the amphioxus hindbrain; if it does, then amphioxus may have little or no homolog of the vertebrate midbrain, The segmental expression of AmphiEn in forming somites suggests that the functions of engrailed homologs in establishing and maintaining a metameric body plan may have arisen only once during animal evolution, If so, the protostomes and deuterostomes probably shared a common segmented ancestor.

Holland, PWH, Holland LZ, Williams NA, Holland ND.  1992.  An Amphioxus Homeobox Gene - Sequence Conservation, Spatial Expression During Development and Insights into Vertebrate Evolution. Development. 116:653-&. AbstractWebsite

The embryology of amphioxus has much in common with vertebrate embryology, reflecting a close phylogenetic relationship between the two groups. Amphioxus embryology is simpler in several key respects, however, including a lack of pronounced craniofacial morphogenesis. To gain an insight into the molecular changes that accompanied the evolution of vertebrate embryology, and into the relationship between the amphioxus and vertebrate body plans, we have undertaken the first molecular level investigation of amphioxus embryonic development. We report the cloning, complete DNA sequence determination, sequence analysis and expression analysis of an amphioxus homeobox gene, AmphiHox3, evolutionarily homologous to the third-most 3' paralogous group of mammalian Hox genes. Sequence comparison to a mammalian homologue, mouse Hox-2.7 (HoxB3), reveals several stretches of amino acid conservation within the deduced protein sequences. Whole mount in situ hybridization reveals localized expression of AmphiHox3 in the posterior mesoderm (but not in the somites), and region-specific expression in the dorsal nerve cord, of amphioxus neurulae, later embryos and larvae. The anterior limit to expression in the nerve cord is at the level of the four/five somite boundary at the neurula stage, and stabilises to just anterior to the first nerve cord pigment spot to form. Comparison to the anterior expression boundary of mouse Hox-2.7 (HoxB3) and related genes suggests that the vertebrate brain is homologous to an extensive region of the amphioxus nerve cord that contains the cerebral vesicle (a region at the extreme rostral tip) and extends posterior to somite four. This proposed homology implies that the vertebrate brain probably did not evolve solely from the cerebral vesicle of an amphioxus-like ancestor, nor did it arise entirely de novo anterior to the cerebral vesicle.