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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.  Evolution of basal deuterostome nervous systems. Journal of Experimental Biology. 218:637-645.   10.1242/jeb.109108   AbstractWebsite

Understanding the evolution of deuterostome nervous systems has been complicated by the by the ambiguous phylogenetic position of the Xenocoelomorpha (Xenoturbellids, acoel flat worms, nemertodermatids), which has been placed either as basal bilaterians, basal deuterostomes or as a sister group to the hemichordate/echinoderm clade (Ambulacraria), which is a sister group of the Chordata. None of these groups has a single longitudinal nerve cord and a brain. A further complication is that echinoderm nerve cords are not likely to be evolutionarily related to the chordate central nervous system. For hemichordates, opinion is divided as to whether either one or none of the two nerve cords is homologous to the chordate nerve cord. In chordates, opposition by two secreted signaling proteins, bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) and Nodal, regulates partitioning of the ectoderm into central and peripheral nervous systems. Similarly, in echinoderm larvae, opposition between BMP and Nodal positions the ciliary band and regulates its extent. The apparent loss of this opposition in hemichordates is, therefore, compatible with the scenario, suggested by Dawydoff over 65 years ago, that a true centralized nervous system was lost in hemichordates.

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.

Wu, HR, Chen YT, Su YH, Luo YJ, Holland LZ, Yu JK.  2011.  Asymmetric localization of germline markers Vasa and Nanos during early development in the amphioxus Branchiostoma floridae. Developmental Biology. 353:147-159.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.02.014   AbstractWebsite

The origin of germline cells was a crucial step in animal evolution. Therefore, in both developmental biology and evolutionary biology, the mechanisms of germline specification have been extensively studied over the past two centuries. However, in many animals, the process of germline specification remains unclear. Here, we show that in the cephalochordate amphioxus Branchiostoma floridae, the germ cell-specific molecular markers Vasa and Nanos become localized to the vegetal pole cytoplasm during oogenesis and are inherited asymmetrically by a single blastomere during cleavage. After gastrulation, this founder cell gives rise to a cluster of progeny that display typical characters of primordial germ cells (PGCs). Blastomeres separated at the two-cell stage grow into twin embryos, but one of the twins fails to develop this Vasa-positive cell population, suggesting that the vegetal pole cytoplasm is required for the formation of putative PGCs in amphioxus embryos. Contrary to the hypothesis that cephalochordates may form their PGCs by epigenesis, our data strongly support a preformation mode of germ cell specification in amphioxus. In addition to the early localization of their maternal transcripts in the putative PGCs, amphioxus Vasa and Nanos are also expressed zygotically in the tail bud, which is the posterior growth zone of amphioxus. Thus, in addition to PGC specification, amphioxus Vasa and Nanos may also function in highly proliferating somatic stem cells. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

Kaltenbach, SL, Holland LZ, Holland ND, Koop D.  2009.  Developmental expression of the three iroquois genes of amphioxus (BfIrxA, BfIrxB, and BfIrxC) with special attention to the gastrula organizer and anteroposterior boundaries in the central nervous system. Gene Expression Patterns. 9:329-334.   10.1016/j.gep.2009.02.003   AbstractWebsite

Here we describe the developmental expression of the three iroquois genes (BfIrxA, BfIrxB, and BfIrxC) of amphioxus. BfIrxB transcription is first detected at the gastrula stage in mesendoderm just within the dorsal lip of the blastopore (a probable homolog of Spemann's organizer) and in ectoderm. In early neurulae, expression begins in presumptive pharyngeal endoderm, somitic mesoderm, and neural plate. Mid-neurulae express BfIrxB throughout the hindbrain, posterior somites, pharyngeal endoderm, and notochord. In early larvae, expression is largely downregulated in the nerve cord, somites and notochord, but remains strong in the pharyngeal endoderm associated with the forming gill slits; also, a late expression domain appears in the ciliary tuft ectoderm. BfIrxA and BpIrxC, are not as widely expressed as BfIrxB. Both are first expressed in the presumptive hindbrain and presumptive pharyngeal endoderm at the early neurula stages. In the mid-neurula, additional expression domains appear in the extremities of the notochord. Neural expression is downregulated by late neurula. In the early larva, expression is chiefly limited to pharyngeal endoderm associated with the forming gill slits, excepting a small new domain of BfIrxC (not BfIrxA) expression in the ciliary tuft ectoderm. In comparison to developing vertebrates, embryos and larvae of amphioxus express iroquois genes in fewer tissues. Thus, iroquois genes of the proximate ancestor of the vertebrates evidently assumed numerous new roles during vertebrate evolution. including the division of the central nervous system into several sub-regions along its anteroposterior axis. (C) 2009 Published by Elsevier B.V.

Onai, T, Lin HC, Schubert M, Koop D, Osborne PW, Alvarez S, Alvarez R, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  2009.  Retinoic acid and Wnt/beta-catenin have complementary roles in anterior/posterior patterning embryos of the basal chordate amphioxus. Developmental Biology. 332:223-233.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.05.571   AbstractWebsite

A role for Wnt/beta-catenin signaling in axial patterning has been demonstrated in animals as basal as cnidarians, while roles in axial patterning for retinoic acid (RA) probably evolved in the deuterostomes and may be chordate-specific. In vertebrates, these two pathways interact both directly and indirectly. To investigate the evolutionary origins of interactions between these two pathways, we manipulated Wnt/beta-catenin and RA signaling in the basal chordate amphioxus during the gastrula stage, which is the RA-sensitive period for anterior/posterior (A/P) patterning. The results show that Wnt/beta-catenin and RA signaling have distinctly different roles in patterning the A/P axis of the amphioxus gastrula. Wnt/beta-catenin specifies the identity of the ends of the embryo (high Wnt = posterior; low Wnt = anterior) but not intervening positions. Thus, Upregulation of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling induces ectopic expression of posterior markers at the anterior tip of the embryo. In contrast, RA specifies position along the A/P axis, but not the identity of the ends of the embryo-increased RA signaling strongly affects the domains of Hox expression along the A/P axis but has little or no effect on the expression of either anterior or posterior markers. Although the two pathways may both influence such things as specification of neuronal identity, interactions between them in A/P patterning appear to be minimal. (C) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Lin, HC, Holland LZ, Holland ND.  2006.  Expression of the AmphiTcf gene in amphioxus: Insights into the evolution of the TCF/LEF gene family during vertebrate evolution. Developmental Dynamics. 235:3396-3403.   10.1002/dvdy.20971   AbstractWebsite

T-cell factor (TCF) and lymphoid enhancer factors (LEF) genes encode proteins that are transcription factors mediating beta-catenin/Wnt signaling. Whereas mammals have four such genes, the Florida amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae) apparently has only one such gene (AmphiTcF). From cleavage through early gastrula, cytoplasmic maternal transcripts of this gene are localized toward the animal pole. In gastrulae, AmphiTcf expression begins in the mesendoderm. In neurulae, there is expression in the pharynx, hindgut, anterior notochord, somites, and at the anterior end of the neural plate. In early larvae, expression is detectable in the floor of the diencephalon, notochord, tail bud, forming somites, pharynx, and ciliated pit (a presumed homolog of the vertebrate adenohypophysis). Phylogenetic analysis of TCF/LEF proteins placed AmphiTcf as the sister group of a clade comprising vertebrate Tcf1, Lef1, Tcf3, and Tcf4. Comparison of developmental expression for amphioxus AmphiTcf and vertebrate TCF/LEF genes indicates that this gene family has undergone extensive subfunctionalization and neofunctionalization during vertebrate evolution.

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.

Schubert, M, Meulemans D, Bronner-Fraser M, Holland LZ, Holland ND.  2003.  Differential mesodermal expression of two amphioxus MyoD family members (AmphiMRF1 and AmphiMRF2). Gene Expression Patterns. 3:199-202.   10.1016/s1567-133x(02)00099-6   AbstractWebsite

To explore the evolution of myogenic regulatory factors in chordates, we isolated two MyoD family genes (AmphiMRF1 and AmphiMRF2) from amphioxus. AmphiMRF1 is first expressed at the late gastrula in the paraxial mesoderm. As the first somites form, expression is restricted to their myotomal region. In the early larva, expression is strongest in the most anterior and most posterior somites. AmphiMRF2 transcription begins at mid/late gastrula in the paraxial mesoderm, but never spreads into its most anterior region. Through much of the neurula stage, AmphiMRF2 expression is strong in the myotomal region of all somites except the most anterior pair; by late neurula expression is downregulated except in the most posterior somites forming just rostral to the tail bud. These two MRF genes of amphioxus have partly overlapping patterns of mesodermal expression and evidently duplicated independent of the diversification of the vertebrate MRF family. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Yu, JK, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  2003.  AmphiFoxQ2, a novel winged helix/forkhead gene, exclusively marks the anterior end of the amphioxus embryo. Development Genes and Evolution. 213:102-105.   10.1007/s00427-003-0302-3   AbstractWebsite

A full-length FoxQ-related gene (AmphiFoxQ2) was isolated from amphioxus. Expression is first detectable in the animal/anterior hemisphere at the mid blastula stage. The midpoint of this expression domain coincides with the anterior pole of the embryo and is offset dorsally by about 20degrees from the animal pole. During the gastrula stage, expression is limited to the anterior ectoderm. By the early neurula stage, expression remains in the anterior ectoderm and also appears in the adjacent anterior mesendoderm. By the early larval stages, expression is detectable in the anteriormost ectoderm and in the rostral tip of the notochord. AmphiFoxQ2 is never expressed anywhere except at the anterior tip of amphioxus embryos and larvae. This is the first gene known that exclusively marks the anterior pole of chordate embryos. It may, therefore, play an important role in establishing and/or maintaining the anterior/ posterior axis.

Holland, ND, Venkatesh TV, Holland LZ, Jacobs DK, Bodmer R.  2003.  AmphiNk2-tin, an amphioxus homeobox gene expressed in myocardial progenitors: insights into evolution of the vertebrate heart. Developmental Biology. 255:128-137.   10.1016/s0012-1606(02)00050-7   AbstractWebsite

We isolated a full-length cDNA clone of amphioxus AmphiNk2-tin, an NK2 gene similar in sequence to vertebrate NK2 cardiac genes, suggesting a potentially similar function to Drosophila tinman and to vertebrate NK2 cardiac genes during heart development. During the neurula stage of amphioxus, AmphiNk2-tin is expressed first within the foregut endoderm, then transiently in muscle precursor cells in the somites, and finally in some mesoderm cells of the visceral peritoneum arranged in an approximately midventral row running beneath the midgut and hindgut. The peritoneal cells that express ArnphiNk2-tin are evidently precursors of the myocardium of the heart, which subsequently becomes morphologically detectable ventral to the gut. The amphioxus heart is a rostrocaudally extended tube consisting entirely of myocardial cells (at both the larval and adult stages); there are no chambers, valves, endocardium, epicardium, or other differentiated features of vertebrate hearts. Phylogenetic analysis of the AmphiNk2-tin sequence documents its close relationship to vertebrate NK2 class cardiac genes, and ancillary evidence suggests a relationship with the Drosophila NK2 gene tinman. Apparently, an amphioxus-like heart, and the developmental program directing its development, was the foundation upon which the vertebrate heart evolved by progressive modular innovations at the genetic and morphological levels of organization. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.

Langlois, MC, Vanacker JM, Holland ND, Escriva H, Queva C, Laudet V, Holland LZ.  2000.  Amphicoup-TF, a nuclear orphan receptor of the lancelet Branchiostoma floridae, is implicated in retinoic acid signalling pathways. Development Genes and Evolution. 210:471-482.   10.1007/s004270000087   AbstractWebsite

In vertebrates, the orphan nuclear receptors of the COUP-TF group function as negative transcriptional regulators that inhibit the hormonal induction of target genes mediated by classical members of the nuclear hormone superfamily, such as the retinoic acid receptors (RARs) or the thyroid hormone receptors (TRs). To investigate the evolutionary conservation of the roles of COUP-TF receptors as negative regulators in the retinoid and thyroid hormone pathways, we have characterized AmphiCOUP-TF, the homologue of COUP-TFI and COUP-TFII, in the chordate amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae), the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSA) showed that AmphiCOUP-TF binds to a wide variety of response elements, as do its vertebrate homologues. Furthermore, AmphiCOUP-TF is a transcriptional repressor that strongly inhibits retinoic acid-mediated transactivation. In situ hybridizations revealed expression of AmphiCOUP-TF in the nerve cord of late larvae, in a region corresponding to hindbrain and probably anterior spinal cord. Although the amphioxus nerve cord appears unsegmented at the gross anatomical level, this pattern reflects segmentation at the cellular level with stripes of expressing cells occurring adjacent to the ends and the centers of each myotomal segment, which may include visceral motor neurons and somatic motor neurons respectively, among other cells. A comparison of the expression pattern of AmphiCOUP-TF with those of its vertebrate homologues, suggests that the roles of COUP-TF in patterning of the nerve cord evolved prior to the split between the amphioxus and vertebrate lineages. Furthermore, in vitro data also suggest that AmphiCOUP-TF acts as a negative regulator of signalling by other nuclear receptors such as RAR, TR or ER.

Holland, LZ, Holland ND, Schubert M.  2000.  Developmental expression of AmphiWnt1, an amphioxus gene in the Wnt1/wingless subfamily. Development Genes and Evolution. 210:522-524.   10.1007/s004270000089   AbstractWebsite

A full-length Wnt1 gene (AmphiWnt1) was isolated from amphioxus. Expression is first detectable in the gastrula around the lip of the blastopore. By the early neurula, transcription is in the mesendoderm near the closed blastopore, but is down-regulated in the overlying ectoderm. In the late neurula, expression is limited to the posterior wall of the neurenteric canal. Later in development, AmphiWnt1 transcripts can no longer be detected. AmphiWnt1 has no counterpart of the predominant expression domains of vertebrate Wnt1 genes in the neural tube, but its expression may be more comparable to that of wingless in the invaginating hindgut primordium of insects.

Schubert, M, Holland LZ, Holland ND.  2000.  Characterization of an amphioxus Wnt gene, AmphiWnt11, with possible roles in myogenesis and tail outgrowth. Genesis. 27:1-5. AbstractWebsite

The full-length sequence and developmental expression of an amphioxus Wnt gene (AmphiWnt11) are described. A phylogenetic analysis of all known full-length Wnt11 sequences indicates that a gene duplication occurred at the base of the vertebrate Wnt11 clade. The developmental expression domains of AmphiWnt11 resemble those of Wnt11 homologs in vertebrates. The earliest detectable expression is transiently associated with the dorsal lip of the blastopore. At the neurula stage, AmphiWnt11 is expressed in myotomal muscle cells; however, AmphiWnt11 transcription is not associated with metameric pre-patterning prior to morphological segmentation. Finally, in amphioxus and the vertebrates, Wnt11 homologs are expressed in anteroventral ectoderm and in association with the tailbud and the tail fin. Thus, in amphioxus and lower vertebrates, the posterior expression of Wnt11 may be involved in tail fin outgrowth, and this ancient genetic program might have been cc-opted at least in part for lateral appendage development during vertebrate evolution. genesis 27: 1-5, 2000, (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Schubert, M, Holland LZ, Holland ND.  2000.  Characterization of two amphioxus Wnt genes (AmphiWnt4 and AmphiWnt7b) with early expression in the developing central nervous system. Developmental Dynamics. 217:205-215.   10.1002/(sici)1097-0177(200002)217:2<205::aid-dvdy7>;2-f   AbstractWebsite

Full-length sequences and developmental expression patterns of two amphioxus Wnt genes (AmphiWnt4 and AmphiWnt7b) are described for the first time. The dynamic expression pattern of AmphiWnt4 suggests roles in the development of the posterior mesoderm, central nervous system, muscular somites, heart, and endostyle (a homolog of the vertebrate thyroid). The less diverse expression domains of AmphiWnt7b indicate that this gene may be involved only in the development of the central nervous system and the endostyle, In contrast to amphioxus, vertebrate embryos do not express Wnt4 homologues in the posterior mesoderm, somites, or heart; instead, Wnt genes of other subfamilies are expressed in these developing vertebrate organs, Because the developmental genetic programs of amphioxus may approximate those in the invertebrate chordate ancestor of the vertebrates, it is possible that some developmental functions of an ancestral Wnt4 gene may have been assumed by genes of other Wnt subfamilies during vertebrate evolution, possibly as a result of functional redundancy among Wnt subfamilies. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Panopoulou, GD, Clark MD, Holland LZ, Lehrach H, Holland ND.  1998.  AmphiBMP2/4, an amphioxus bone morphogenetic protein closely related to Drosophila decapentaplegic and vertebrate BMP2 and BMP4: Insights into evolution of dorsoventral axis specification. Developmental Dynamics. 213:130-139.   10.1002/(sici)1097-0177(199809)213:1<130::aid-aja13>;2-z   AbstractWebsite

Amphioxus AmphiBMP2/4 appears to be a single gene closely related to vertebrate BMP2 and BMP4. In amphioxus embryos, the expression patterns of AmphiBMP2/4 suggest patterning roles in the ectodermal dorsoventral axis (comparable to dorsoventral axis establishment in the ectoderm by Drosophila decapentaplegic and vertebrate BMP4). In addition AmphiBMP2/4 may be involved in somite evagination, tail bud growth, pharyngeal differentiation (resulting in club-shaped gland morphogenesis), hindgut regionalization, differentiation of olfactory epithelium, patterning of the anterior central nervous system, and establishment of the heart primordium, One difference between the developmental role of amphioxus AmphiBMP2/4 and vertebrate BMP4 is that the former does not appear to be involved in the initial establishment of the dorsoventral polarity of the mesoderm, Dev. Dyn. 1998;213:130-139. (C) 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Glardon, S, Holland LZ, Gehring WJ, Holland ND.  1998.  Isolation and developmental expression of the amphioxus Pax-6 gene (AmphiPax-6): insights into eye and photoreceptor evolution. Development. 125:2701-2710. AbstractWebsite

Pax-6 genes have been identified from a broad range of invertebrate and vertebrate animals and shown to be always involved in early eye development. Therefore, it has been proposed that the various types of eyes evolved from a single eye prototype, by a Pax-6-dependent mechanism. Here we describe the characterization of a cephalochordate Pax-6 gene. The single amphioxus Pax-6 gene (AmphiPax-6) can produce several alternatively spliced transcripts, resulting in proteins with markedly different amino and carboxy termini, The amphioxus Pax-6 proteins are 92% identical to mammalian Pax-6 proteins in the paired domain and 100% identical in the homeodomain. Expression of AmphiPax-6 in the anterior epidermis of embryos may be related to development of an olfactory epithelium. Expression is also detectable in Hatschek's left diverticulum as it forms the preoral ciliated pit, part of which gives rise to the homolog of the vertebrate anterior pituitary, A zone of expression in the anterior neural plate of early embryos is carried into the cerebral vesicle (a probable diencephalic homolog) during neurulation, This zone includes cells that will differentiate into the lamellar body, a presumed homolog of the vertebrate pineal eye, In neurulae, AmphiPax-6 is also expressed in ventral cells at the anterior tip of the nerve cord; these cells are precursors of the photoreceptive neurons of the frontal eye, the presumed homolog of the vertebrate paired eyes. However, AmphiPax-6 expression was not detected in two additional types of photoreceptors, the Joseph cells or the organs of Hesse, which are evidently relatively recent adaptations (ganglionic photoreceptors) and appear to be rare exceptions to the general rule that animal photoreceptors develop from a genetic program triggered by Pax-6.