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Holland, LZ, Panfilio KA, Chastain R, Schubert M, Holland ND.  2005.  Nuclear beta-catenin promotes non-neural ectoderm and posterior cell fates in amphioxus embryos. Developmental Dynamics. 233:1430-1443.   10.1002/dvdy.20473   AbstractWebsite

In vertebrate development, Wnt/beta-catenin signaling has an early role in specification of dorsal/anterior identity and a late one in posterior specification. To understand the evolution of these roles, we cloned beta-catenin from the invertebrate chordate amphioxus. The exon/intron organization of beta-catenin is highly conserved between amphioxus and other animals including a cnidarian, but not Drosophila. In development, amphioxus P-catenin is concentrated in all nuclei from the 16-cell stage until the onset of gastrulation when it becomes undetectable in presumptive mesendoderm. Li+, which up-regulates Wnt/beta-catenin signaling, had no detectable effect on axial patterning when applied before the late blastula stage, suggesting that a role for P-catenin in specification of dorsal/anterior identity may be a vertebrate innovation. From the mid-gastrula through the neurula stage, the highest levels of nuclear R-catenin are around the blastopore. In the early neurula, P-catenin is down-regulated in the neural plate, but remains high in adjacent non-neural ectoderm. Embryos treated with Li+ at the late blastula stage are markedly posteriorized and lack a neural plate. These results suggest that in amphioxus, as in vertebrates, downregulation of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling in the neural plate is necessary for maintenance of the neuroectoderm and that a major evolutionarily conserved role of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is to specify posterior identity and pattern the anterior/posterior axis. (c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Holland, LZ.  2002.  Heads or tails? Amphioxus and the evolution of anterior-posterior patterning in deuterostomes Developmental Biology. 241:209-228.   10.1006/dbio.2001.0503   AbstractWebsite

In Xenopus, the canonical Wnt-signaling pathway acting through (beta-catenin functions both in establishing the dorso-ventral axis and in patterning the anterior-posterior axis. This pathway also acts in patterning the animal-vegetal axis in sea urchins. However, because sea urchin development is typically indirect, and adult sea urchins have pentamerous symmetry and lack a longitudinal nerve cord, it has not been clear how the roles of the canonical Wnt-signaling pathway in axial patterning in sea urchins and vertebrates are evolutionarily related. The developmental expression patterns of Notch, brachyury, caudal, and eight Wnt genes have now been determined for the invertebrate chordate amphioxus, which, like sea urchins, has an early embryo that gastrulates by invagination, but like vertebrates, has a later embryo with a dorsal hollow nerve cord that elongates posteriorly from a tail bud. Comparisons of amphioxus with other deuterostomes suggest that patterning of the ancestral deuterostome embryo along its anterior-posterior axis during the late blastula and subsequent stages involved a posterior signaling center including Writs, Notch, and transcription factors such as brachyury and caudal. In tunicate embryos, in which cell numbers are reduced and cell fates largely determined during cleavage stages, only vestiges of this signaling center are still apparent; these include localization of Wnt-5 mRNA to the posterior cytoplasm shortly after fertilization and localization of beta-catenin to vegetal nuclei during cleavage stages. Neither in tunicates nor in amphioxus is there any evidence that the canonical Wnt-signaling pathway functions in establishment of the dorso-ventral axis. Thus, roles for Wnt-signaling in dorso-ventral patterning of embryos may be a vertebrate innovation that arose in connection with the evolution of yolky eggs and gastrulation by extensive involution. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science.

Holland, LZ, Rached LA, Tamme R, Holland ND, Inoko H, Shiina T, Burgtorf C, Lardelli M.  2001.  Characterization and developmental expression of the amphioxus homolog of notch (AmphiNotch): Evolutionary conservation of multiple expression domains in amphioxus and vertebrates. Developmental Biology. 232:493-507.   10.1006/dbio.2001.0160   AbstractWebsite

Notch encodes a transmembrane protein that functions in intercellular signaling. Although there is one Notch gene in Drosophila, vertebrates have three or more with overlapping patterns of embryonic expression. We cloned the entire 7575-bp coding region of an amphioxus Notch gene (AmphiNotch), encoding 2524 amino acids, and obtained the exon/intron organization from a genomic cosmid clone. Southern blot and PCR data indicate that AmphiNotch is the only Notch gene in amphioxus. AmphiNotch, like Drosophila Notch and vertebrate Notch1 and Notch2, has 36 EGF repeats, 3 Notch/lin-12 repeats, a transmembrane region, and B ankyrin repeats. Phylogenetic analysis places it at the base of all the vertebrate genes, suggesting it is similar to the ancestral gene from which the vertebrate Notch family genes evolved. AmphiNotch is expressed in all three embryonic perm layers in spatiotemporal patterns strikingly similar to those of all the vertebrate homologs combined. In the developing nerve cord, AmphiNotch is first expressed in the posteriormost part of the neural plate, then it becomes more broadly expressed and later is localized dorsally in the anteriormost part of the nerve cord corresponding to the diencephalon. In late embryos and larvae, AmphiNotch is also expressed in parts of the pharyngeal endoderm, ill the anterior gut diverticulum, and, like AmphiPax2/5/8, in the rudiment of Hatschek's kidney. A comparison with Notch1 and Pax5 and Pax8 expression in the embryonic mouse kidney helps support homology of the amphioxus and vertebrate kidneys. AmphiNotch is also an early marker for presumptive mesoderm, transcripts first being detectable at the gastrula stage in a ring of mesendoderm just inside the blastopore and subsequently in the posterior mesoderm, notochord, and somites. As in sea urchins and vertebrates, these domains of AmphiNotch expression overlap with those of several Wnt genes and brachyury. These relationships suggest that amphioxus shares with other deuterostomes a common mechanism for patterning along the anterior/posterior axis involving a posterior signaling center in which the Notch and Wnt pathways and brachyury interact. (C) 2001 Academic Press.

Holland, LZ.  2000.  Body-plan evolution in the Bilateria: early antero-posterior patterning and the deuterostome-protostome dichotomy. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development. 10:434-442.   10.1016/s0959-437x(00)00109-x   AbstractWebsite

Recent molecular analyses reveal common themes in early antero-posterior patterning in the four major groups of invertebrate deuterostomes and vertebrates in spite of large differences in the mode of gastrulation. Comparisons with Drosophila and Cnidarians suggest a scheme for evolution of the Bilaterian body plan and emphasize the pressing need for similar studies in a wider variety of organisms, especially more basal protostomes.

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.