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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.

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.

Yu, JK, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  2002.  An amphioxus winged helix/forkhead gene, AmphiFoxD: Insights into vertebrate neural crest evolution. Developmental Dynamics. 225:289-297.   10.1002/dvdy.10173   AbstractWebsite

During amphioxus development, the neural plate is bordered by cells expressing many genes with homologs involved in vertebrate neural crest induction. However, these amphioxus cells evidently lack additional genetic programs for the cell delaminations, migrations, and differentiations characterizing definitive vertebrate neural crest. We characterize an amphioxus winged helix/forkhead gene (AmphiFoxD) closely related to vertebrate FoxD genes. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that the AmphiFoxD is basal to vertebrate FoxD1, FoxD2, FoxD3, FoxD4, and FoxD5. One of these vertebrate genes (FoxD3) consistently marks neural crest during development. Early in amphioxus development, AmphiFoxD is expressed medially in the anterior neural plate as well as in axial (notochordal) and paraxial mesoderm; later, the gene is expressed in the somites, notochord, cerebral vesicle (diencephalon), and hindgut endoderm. However, there is never any expression in cells bordering the neural plate. We speculate that an AmphiFoxD homolog in the common ancestor of amphioxus and vertebrates was involved in histogenic processes in the mesoderm (evagination and delamination of the somites and notochord); then, in the early vertebrates, descendant paralogs of this gene began functioning in the presumptive neural crest bordering the neural plate to help make possible the delaminations and cell migrations that characterize definitive vertebrate neural crest. (C) 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Zhang, SC, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  1997.  Topographic changes in nascent and early mesoderm in amphioxus embryos studied by Dil labeling and by in situ hybridization for a Brachyury gene. Development Genes and Evolution. 206:532-535.   10.1007/s004270050083   AbstractWebsite

In amphioxus embryos, the nascent and early mesoderm (including chorda-mesoderm) was visualized by expression of a Brachyury gene (AmBra-2). A band of mesoderm is first detected encircling the earliest (vegetal plate stage) gastrula sub-equatorially. Soon thereafter, the vegetal plate invaginates. resulting in a cap-shaped gastrula with the mesoderm localized at the blastoporal lip and completely encircling the blastopore. As the gastrula stage progresses, DiI (a vital dye) labeling demonstrates that the entire mesoderm is internalized by a slight involution of the epiblast into the hypoblast all around the perimeter of the blastopore. Subsequently. during the early neurula stage, the internalized mesoderm undergoes anterior extension mid-dorsally (as notochord) and dorsolaterally (in paraxial regions when segments will later form). By the late neurula stage, AmBra-2 is no longer transcribed throughout the mesoderm as a whole; instead. expression is detectable only in the posterior mesoderm and in the notochord, but not in par axial mesoderm where definitive somites have formed.

Holland, PWH, Koschorz B, Holland LZ, Herrmann BG.  1995.  Conservation of Brachyury (T) genes in amphioxus and vertebrates: Developmental and evolutionary implications. Development. 121:4283-4291. AbstractWebsite

Homologues of the murine Brachyury (T) gene have been cloned from several vertebrates, and are implicated in mesoderm formation and in differentiation of the notochord, In contrast, the roles of the ascidian Brachyury gene may be restricted to presumptive notochord, To understand the evolution of Brachyury genes and their developmental roles, we have searched for homologues in amphioxus, representing the third chordate subphylum and the probable closest relative of the vertebrates. We report the isolation of two amphioxus cDNA clones with clear homology to Brachyury genes, and demonstrate that these derive from separate loci resultant from a recent gene duplication. This finding represents an exception to the emerging consensus of an archetypal prevertebrate genome in amphioxus, The spatial and temporal distribution of Brachyury transcripts during amphioxus development is remarkably similar to vertebrate Brachyury, in presumptive mesoderm, posterior mesoderm and the notochord, Gene expression extends throughout the anteroposterior axis of the notochord, despite the most rostral regions being a more recent specialization; it also persists into larval stages, despite differentiation into contractile tissue, We propose that roles of Brachyury in notochord differentiation are more ancient than roles in mesoderm formation, and that the latter are shared by cephalochordates and all vertebrates.