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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

Gibson-Brown, JJ, Osoegawa K, McPherson JD, Waterston RH, de Jong PJ, Rokhsar DS, Holland LZ.  2003.  A proposal to sequence the amphioxus genome submitted to the joint genome institute of the US department of energy. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B-Molecular and Developmental Evolution. 300B:5-22.   10.1002/jez.b.00042   Website
Yu, JK, Holland LZ, Jamrich M, Blitz IL, Holland ND.  2002.  AmphiFoxE4, an amphioxus winged helix/forkhead gene encoding a protein closely related to vertebrate thyroid transcription factor-2: expression during pharyngeal development. Evolution & Development. 4:9-15.   10.1046/j.1525-142x.2002.01057.x   AbstractWebsite

The full-length sequence and developmental expression of amphioxus AmphiFoxE4 are described. Transcripts of the gene are first detected in the pharyngeal endoderm, where the club-shaped gland is forming and subsequently in the definitive gland itself. AmphiFoxE4 is closely related to vertebrate genes encoding the thyroid-specific transcription factor-2 (TTF2), which plays an early developmental role in the morphogenesis of the thyroid gland and a later role in hormone-mediated control of thyroid function. In amphioxus, AmphiFoxE4 expression is not thyroid specific because the club-shaped gland, the only structure expressing the gene, is not homologous to the vertebrate thyroid; in-stead, the thyroid homologue of amphioxus is a specialized region of the pharyngeal endoderm called the endostyle. We propose that (a) the pharynx of an amphioxus-like ancestor of the vertebrates included a club-shaped gland that expressed FoxE4 as well as an endostyle that did not, and (b) the club-shaped gland soon disappeared in the vertebrate line of descent but (c) not before there was a homeogenetic transfer of FoxE4 expression from the club-shaped gland to the nearby endostyle. Such a transfer could have provided part of the genetic program enabling the endostyle to separate from the pharyngeal endoderm and migrate away as the rudiment of the thyroid gland.

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.