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Holland, LZ.  2015.  Genomics, evolution and development of amphioxus and tunicates: The Goldilocks principle. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B-Molecular and Developmental Evolution. 324:342-352.   10.1002/jez.b.22569   AbstractWebsite

Morphological comparisons among extant animals have long been used to infer their long-extinct ancestors for which the fossil record is poor or non-existent. For evolution of the vertebrates, the comparison has typically involved amphioxus and vertebrates. Both groups are evolving relatively slowly, and their genomes share a high level of synteny. Both vertebrates and amphioxus have regulative development in which cell fates become fixed only gradually during embryogenesis. Thus, their development fits a modified hourglass model in which constraints are greatest at the phylotypic stage (i.e., the late neurula/early larva), but are somewhat greater on earlier development than on later development. In contrast, the third group of chordates, the tunicates, which are sister group to vertebrates, are evolving rapidly. Constraints on evolution of tunicate genomes are relaxed, and they have discarded key developmental genes and organized much of their coding sequences into operons, which are transcribed as a single mRNA that undergoes trans-splicing. This contrasts with vertebrates and amphioxus, whose genomes are not organized into operons. Concomitantly, tunicates have switched to determinant development with very early fixation of cell fates. Thus, tunicate development more closely fits a progressive divergence model (shaped more like a wine glass than an hourglass) in which the constraints on the zygote and very early development are greatest. This model can help explain why tunicate body plans are so very diverse. The relaxed constraints on development after early cleavage stages are correlated with relaxed constraints on genome evolution. The question remains: which came first? J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 324B: 342-352, 2015. (c) 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Holland, LZ, Carvalho JE, Escriva H, Laudet V, Schubert M, Shimeld SM, Yu JK.  2013.  Evolution of bilaterian central nervous systems: a single origin? Evodevo. 4   10.1186/2041-9139-4-27   AbstractWebsite

The question of whether the ancestral bilaterian had a central nervous system (CNS) or a diffuse ectodermal nervous system has been hotly debated. Considerable evidence supports the theory that a CNS evolved just once. However, an alternative view proposes that the chordate CNS evolved from the ectodermal nerve net of a hemichordate-like ancestral deuterostome, implying independent evolution of the CNS in chordates and protostomes. To specify morphological divisions along the anterior/posterior axis, this ancestor used gene networks homologous to those patterning three organizing centers in the vertebrate brain: the anterior neural ridge, the zona limitans intrathalamica and the isthmic organizer, and subsequent evolution of the vertebrate brain involved elaboration of these ancestral signaling centers; however, all or part of these signaling centers were lost from the CNS of invertebrate chordates. The present review analyzes the evidence for and against these theories. The bulk of the evidence indicates that a CNS evolved just once - in the ancestral bilaterian. Importantly, in both protostomes and deuterostomes, the CNS represents a portion of a generally neurogenic ectoderm that is internalized and receives and integrates inputs from sensory cells in the remainder of the ectoderm. The expression patterns of genes involved in medio/lateral (dorso/ventral) patterning of the CNS are similar in protostomes and chordates; however, these genes are not similarly expressed in the ectoderm outside the CNS. Thus, their expression is a better criterion for CNS homologs than the expression of anterior/posterior patterning genes, many of which (for example, Hox genes) are similarly expressed both in the CNS and in the remainder of the ectoderm in many bilaterians. The evidence leaves hemichordates in an ambiguous position - either CNS centralization was lost to some extent at the base of the hemichordates, or even earlier, at the base of the hemichordates + echinoderms, or one of the two hemichordate nerve cords is homologous to the CNS of protostomes and chordates. In any event, the presence of part of the genetic machinery for the anterior neural ridge, the zona limitans intrathalamica and the isthmic organizer in invertebrate chordates together with similar morphology indicates that these organizers were present, at least in part, at the base of the chordates and were probably elaborated upon in the vertebrate lineage.

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.

Kozmik, Z, Holland ND, Kreslova J, Oliveri D, Schubert M, Jonasova K, Holland LZ, Pestarino M, Benes V, Candiani S.  2007.  Pax-Six-Eya-Dach network during amphioxus development: Conservation in vitro but context specificity in vivo. Developmental Biology. 306:143-159.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2007.03.009   AbstractWebsite

The Drosophila retinal determination gene network occurs in animals generally as a Pax-Six-Eyes absent-Dachshund network (PSEDN). For amphioxus, we describe the complete network of nine PSEDN genes, four of which-AmphiSix1/2, AmphiSix4/5, AmphiSix3/6, and AmphiEya-are characterized here for the first time. For amphioxus, in vitro interactions among the genes and proteins of the network resemble those of other animals, except for the absence of Dach-Eya binding. Amphioxus PSEDN genes are expressed in highly stage- and tissue-specific patterns (sometimes conspicuously correlated with the local intensity of cell proliferation) in the gastrular organizer, notochord, somites, anterior central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, pharyngeal endoderm, and the likely homolog of the vertebrate adenohypophysis. In this last tissue, the anterior region expresses all three amphioxus Six genes and is a zone of active cell proliferation, while the posterior region expresses only AmphiPax6 and is non-proliferative. In summary, the topologies of animal PSEDNs, although considerably more variable than originally proposed, are conserved enough to be recognizable among species and among developing tissues; this conservation may reflect indispensable involvement of PSEDNs during the critically important early phases of embryology (e.g. in the control of mitosis, apoptosis, and cell/tissue motility). (C) 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Schubert, M, Yu JK, Holland ND, Escriva H, Laudet V, Holland LZ.  2005.  Retinoic acid signaling acts via Hox1 to establish the posterior limit of the pharynx in the chordate amphioxus. Development. 132:61-73.   10.1242/dev.01554   AbstractWebsite

In the invertebrate chordate amphioxus, as in vertebrates, retinoic acid (RA) specifies position along the anterior/posterior axis with elevated RA signaling in the middle third of the endoderm setting the posterior limit of the pharynx. Here we show that AmphiHox1 is also expressed in the middle third of the developing amphioxus endoderm and is activated by RA signaling. Knockdown of AmphiHox1 function with an antisense morpholino oligonucleotide shows that AmphiHox1 mediates the role of RA signaling in setting the posterior limit of the pharynx by repressing expression of pharyngeal markers in the posterior foregut/midgut endoderm. The spatiotemporal expression of these endodermal genes in embryos treated with RA or the RA antagonist BMS009 indicates that Pax1/9, Pitx and Notch are probably more upstream than Otx and Nodal in the hierarchy of genes repressed by RA signaling. This work highlights the potential of amphioxus, a genomically simple, vertebrate-like invertebrate chordate, as a paradigm for understanding gene hierarchies similar to the more complex ones of vertebrates.

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
Holland, LZ, Holland ND.  2001.  Evolution of neural crest and placodes: amphioxus as a model for the ancestral vertebrate? Journal of Anatomy. 199:85-98.   10.1046/j.1469-7580.199.parts1-2.8.x   AbstractWebsite

Recent studies of protochordates (ascidian tunicates and amphioxus) have given insights into possible ancestors of 2 of the characteristic features of the vertebrate head: neural crest and placodes. The neural crest probably evolved from cells on either side of the neural plate-epidermis boundary in a protochordate ancestral to the vertebrates. In amphioxus, homologues of several vertebrate neural crest marker genes (BMP2/4, Pax3/7, Msx, Dll and Snail) are expressed at the edges of the neural plate and/or adjacent nonneural ectoderm. Some of these markers are also similarly expressed in tunicates. In protochordates, however, these cells, unlike vertebrate neural crest, neither migrate as individuals through embryonic tissues nor differentiate into a wide spectrum of cell types. Therefore, while the protochordate ancestor of the vertebrates probably had the beginnings of a genetic programme for neural crest formation, this programme was augmented in the earliest vertebrates to attain definitive neural crest. Clear homologues of vertebrate placodes are lacking in protochordates. However, both amphioxus and tunicates have ectodermal sensory cells. In tunicates these are all primary neurons, sending axons to the central nervous system, while in amphioxus, the ectodermal sensory cells include both primary neurons and secondary neurons lacking axons. Comparisons of developmental gene expression suggest that the anterior ectoderm in amphioxus may be homologous to the vertebrate olfactory placode, the only vertebrate placode with primary, not secondary, neurons. Similarly, biochemical, morphological and gene expression data suggest that amphioxus and tunicates also have homologues of the adenohypophysis, one of the few vertebrate structures derived from nonneurogenic placodes. In contrast, the origin of the other vertebrate placodes is very uncertain.

Holland, LZ, Holland ND.  1999.  Chordate origins of the vertebrate central nervous system. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 9:596-602.   10.1016/s0959-4388(99)00003-3   AbstractWebsite

Fine structural, computerized three-dimensional (3D) mapping of cell connectivity in the amphioxus nervous system and comparative molecular genetic studies of amphioxus and tunicates have provided recent insights into the phylogenetic origin of the vertebrate nervous system. The results suggest that several of the genetic mechanisms for establishing and patterning the vertebrate nervous system already operated in the ancestral chordate and that the nerve cord of the proximate invertebrate ancestor of the vertebrates included a diencephalon, midbrain, hindbrain, and spinal cord. In contrast, the telencephalon, a midbrain-hindbrain boundary region with organizer properties, and the definitive neural crest appear to be vertebrate innovations.

Holland, ND, Panganiban G, Henyey EL, Holland LZ.  1996.  Sequence and developmental expression of AmphiDII, an amphioxus Distal-less gene transcribed in the ectoderm, epidermis and nervous system: Insights into evolution of craniate forebrain and neural crest. Development. 122:2911-2920. AbstractWebsite

The dynamic expression patterns of the single amphioxus Distal-less homolog (AmphiDll) during development are consistent with successive roles of this gene in global regionalization of the ectoderm, establishment of the dorsoventral axis, specification of migratory epidermal cells early in neurulation and the specification of forebrain, Such a multiplicity of Distal-less functions probably represents an ancestral chordate condition and, during craniate evolution, when this gene diversified into a family of six or so members, the original functions evidently tended to be parcelled out among the descendant genes, In the amphioxus gastrula, AmphiDll is expressed throughout the animal hemisphere (presumptive ectoderm), but is soon downregulated dorsally (in the presumptive neural plate), During early neurulation, AmphiDll-expressing epidermal cells flanking the neural plate extend lamellipodia, appear to migrate over it and meet mid-dorsally, Midway in neurulation, cells near the anterior end of the neural plate begin expressing AmphiDll and, as neurulation terminates, these cells are incorporated into the dorsal part of the neural tube, which forms by a curling of the neural plate, This group of AmphiDII-expressing neural cells and a second group expressing the gene a little later and even more anteriorly in the neural tube demarcate a region that comprises the anterior three/fourths of the cerebral vesicle; this region of the amphioxus neural tube, as judged by neural expression domains of craniate Distal-less-related genes, is evidently homologous to the craniate forebrain, Our results suggest that craniates evolved from an amphioxus-like creature that had the beginnings of a forebrain and possibly a precursor of neural crest - namely, the cell population leading the epidermal overgrowth of the neural plate during early neurulation.

Holland, LZ, Holland ND.  1996.  Expression of AmphiHox-1 and AmphiPax-1 in amphioxus embryos treated with retinoic acid: Insights into evolution and patterning of the chordate nerve cord and pharynx. Development. 122:1829-1838. AbstractWebsite

Excess all-trans retinoic acid (RA) causes severe craniofacial malformations in vertebrate embryos: pharyngeal arches are fused or absent, and a rostrad expansion of Hoxb-1 expression in the hindbrain shows that anterior rhombomeres are homeotically respecified to a more posterior identity. As a corollary, neural crest migration into the pharyngeal arches is abnormal. We administered excess RA to developing amphioxus, the closest invertebrate relative of the vertebrates and thus a key organism for understanding evolution of the vertebrate body plan. In normal amphioxus, the nerve cord has only a slight anterior swelling, the cerebral vesicle, and apparently lacks migratory neural crest. Nevertheless, excess RA similarly affects amphioxus and vertebrates. The expression domain of AmphiHox-1 (homologous to mouse Hoxb-1) in the amphioxus nerve cord is also extended anteriorly. For both the amphioxus and mouse genes, excess RA causes either (1) continuous expression throughout the preotic hindbrain (mouse) and from the level of somite 7 to the anterior end of the nerve cord (amphioxus) or (2) discontinuous expression with a gap in rhombomere 3 (mouse) and a gap at the posterior end of the cerebral vesicle (amphioxus). A comparison of these expression patterns suggests that amphioxus has a homolog of the vertebrate hindbrain, both preotic and postotic. Although RA alters the expression of AmphiHox-1 expression in the amphioxus nerve cord, it does not alter the expression of AmphiHox-1 in presomitic mesoderm or of alkali myosin light chain (AmphiMlc-alk) in somites, and the axial musculature and notochord develop normally. The most striking morphogenetic effect of RA on amphioxus larvae is the failure of mouth and gill slits to form. In vertebrates effects of excess RA on pharyngeal development have been attributed solely to the abnormal migratory patterns of Hox-expressing cranial neural crest cells. This cannot be true for amphioxus because of the lack of migratory neural crest. Furthermore, expression of Hox genes in pharyngeal tissues of amphioxus has not yet been detected. However, the absence of gill slits in RA-treated amphioxus embryos correlates with an RA-induced failure of AmphiPax-1 to become down-regulated in regions of pharyngeal endoderm that would normally fuse with the overlying ectoderm. In vertebrates, RA might similarly act via Pax-1/9, also expressed in pharyngeal endoderm, to impair pharyngeal patterning.