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Ono, H, Koop D, Holland LZ.  2018.  Nodal and Hedgehog synergize in gill slit formation during development of the cephalochordate Branchiostoma floridae. Development. 145   10.1242/dev.162586   AbstractWebsite

The larval pharynx of the cephalochordate Branchiostoma (amphioxus) is asymmetrical. The mouth is on the left, and endostyle and gill slits are on the right. At the neurula, Nodal and Hedgehog (Hh) expression becomes restricted to the left. To dissect their respective roles in gill slit formation, we inhibited each pathway separately for 20 min at intervals during the neurula stage, before gill slits penetrate, and monitored the effects on morphology and expression of pharyngeal markers. The results pinpoint the short interval spanning the gastrula/neurula transition as the critical period for specification and positioning of future gill slits. Thus, reduced Nodal signaling shifts the gill slits ventrally, skews the pharyngeal domains of Hh, Pax1/9, Pax2/5/8, Six1/2 and IrxC towards the left, and reduces Hh and Tbx1/10 expression in endoderm and mesoderm, respectively. Nodal auto-regulates. Decreased Hh signaling does not affect gill slit positions or Hh or Nodal expression, but it does reduce the domain of Gli, the Hh target, in the pharyngeal endoderm. Thus, during the neurula stage, Nodal and Hh cooperate in gill slit development - Hh mediates gill slit formation and Nodal establishes their left-right position.

Yue, JX, Yu JK, Putnam NH, Holland LZ.  2014.  The transcriptome of an Amphioxus, Asymmetron lucayanum, from the Bahamas: A window into chordate evolution. Genome Biology and Evolution. 6:2681-2696.   10.1093/gbe/evu212   AbstractWebsite

Cephalochordates, the sister group of tunicates plus vertebrates, have been called "living fossils" due to their resemblance to fossil chordates from Cambrian strata. The genome of the cephalochordate Branchiostoma floridae shares remarkable synteny with vertebrates and is free from whole-genome duplication. We performed RNA sequencing from larvae and adults of Asymmetron lucayanum, a cephalochordate distantly related to B. floridae. Comparisons of about 430 orthologous gene groups among both cephalochordates and 10 vertebrates using an echinoderm, a hemichordate, and a mollusk as outgroups showed that cephalochordates are evolving more slowly than the slowest evolving vertebrate known (the elephant shark), with A. lucayanum evolving even more slowly than B. floridae. Against this background of slow evolution, some genes, notably several involved in innate immunity, stand out as evolving relatively quickly. This may be due to the lack of an adaptive immune system and the relatively high levels of bacteria in the inshore waters cephalochordates inhabit. Molecular dating analysis including several time constraints revealed a divergence time of similar to 120 Ma for A. lucayanum and B. floridae. The divisions between cephalochordates and vertebrates, and that between chordates and the hemichordate plus echinoderm clade likely occurred before the Cambrian.

Onai, T, Yu JK, Blitz IL, Cho KWY, Holland LZ.  2010.  Opposing Nodal/Vg1 and BMP signals mediate axial patterning in embryos of the basal chordate amphioxus. Developmental Biology. 344:377-389.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2010.05.016   AbstractWebsite

The basal chordate amphioxus resembles vertebrates in having a dorsal, hollow nerve cord, a notochord and somites However, it lacks extensive gene duplications, and its embryos are small and gastrulate by simple invagination Here we demonstrate that Nodal/Vg1 signaling acts from early cleavage through the gastrula stage to specify and maintain dorsal/anterior development while, starting at the early gastrula stage, BMP signaling promotes ventral/posterior identity Knockdown and gain-of-function experiments show that these pathways act in opposition to one another Signaling by these pathways is modulated by dorsally and/or anteriorly expressed genes including Chordin, Cerberus, and Blimp1. Overexpression and/or reporter assays in Xenopus demonstrate that the functions of these proteins are conserved between amphioxus and vertebrates. Thus, a fundamental genetic mechanism for axial patterning involving opposing Nodal and BMP signaling is present in amphioxus and probably also in the common ancestor of amphioxus and vertebrates or even earlier in deuterostome evolution (C) 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved

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.

Short, S, Holland LZ.  2008.  The evolution of alternative splicing in the Pax family: The view from the basal chordate amphioxus. Journal of Molecular Evolution. 66:605-620.   10.1007/s00239-008-9113-5   AbstractWebsite

Pax genes encode transcription factors critical for metazoan development. Large-scale gene duplication with subsequent gene losses during vertebrate evolution has resulted in two human genes for each of the Pax1/9, Pax3/7, and Pax4/6 subfamilies and three for the Pax2/5/8 subfamily, compared to one each in the cephalochordate amphioxus. In addition, alternative splicing occurs in vertebrate Pax transcripts from all four subfamilies, and many splice forms are known to have functional importance. To better understand the evolution of alternative splicing within the Pax family, we systematically surveyed transcripts of the four amphioxus Pax genes. We have found alternative splicing in every gene. Comparisons with vertebrates suggest that the number of alternative splicing events per gene has not decreased following duplication; there are comparable levels in the four amphioxus Pax genes as in each gene of the equivalent vertebrate families. Thus, the total number of isoforms for the nine vertebrate genes is considerably higher than for the four amphioxus genes. Most alternative splicing events appear to have arisen since the divergence of amphioxus and vertebrate lineages, suggesting that differences in alternative splicing could account for divergent functions of the highly conserved Pax genes in both lineages. However, several events predicted to dramatically alter known functional domains are conserved between amphioxus and vertebrates, suggestive of a common chordate function. Our results, together with previous studies of vertebrate Pax genes, support the theory that alternative splicing impacts functional motifs more than gene duplication followed by divergence.

Beaster-Jones, L, Schubert M, Holland LZ.  2007.  Cis-regulation of the amphioxus engrailed gene: Insights into evolution of a muscle-specific enhancer. Mechanisms of Development. 124:532-542.   10.1016/j.mod.2007.06.002   AbstractWebsite

To gain insights into the relation between evolution of cis-regulatory DNA and evolution of gene function, we identified tissue-specific enhancers of the engrailed gene of the basal chordate amphioxus (Branch iostoma floridae) and compared their ability to direct expression in both amphioxus and its nearest chordate relative, the tunicate Ciona intestinalis. In amphioxus embryos, the native engrailed gene is expressed in three domains - the eight most anterior somites, a few cells in the central nervous system (CNS) and a few ectodermal cells. In contrast, in C. intestinalis, in which muscle development is highly divergent, engrailed expression is limited to the CNS. To characterize the tissue-specific enhancers of amphioxus engrailed, we first showed that 7.8 kb of upstream DNA of amphioxus engrailed directs expression to all three domains in amphioxus that express the native gene. We then identified the amphioxus engrailed muscle-specific enhancer as the 1.2 kb region of upstream DNA with the highest sequence identity to the mouse en-2 jaw muscle enhancer. This amphioxus enhancer directed expression to both the somites in amphioxus and to the larval muscles in C intestinalis. These results show that even though expression of the native engrailed has apparently been lost in developing C intestinalis muscles, they express the transcription factors necessary to activate transcription from the amphioxus engrailed enhancer, suggesting that gene networks may not be completely disrupted if an individual component is lost. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Castro, LFC, Rasmussen SLK, Holland PWH, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  2006.  A Gbx homeobox gene in amphioxus: Insights into ancestry of the ANTP class and evolution of the midbrain/hindbrain boundary. Developmental Biology. 295:40-51.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.03.003   AbstractWebsite

In the vertebrate central nervous system (CNS), mutual antagonism between posteriorly expressed Gbx2 and anteriorly expressed OtX2 positions the midbrain/hindbrain boundary (MHB), but does not induce MHB organizer genes such as En, Pax2/5/8 and Wnt1. In the CNS of the cephalochordate amphioxus, Otx is also expressed anteriorly, but En, Pax2/5/8 and Wnt1 are not expressed near the caudal limit of Otx, raising questions about the existence of an MHB organizer in amphioxus. To investigate the evolutionary origins of the MHB, we cloned the single amphioxus Gbx gene. Fluorescence in situ hybridization showed that, as in vertebrates, amphioxus Gbx and the Hox cluster are on the same chromosome. From analysis of linked genes, we argue that during evolution a single ancestral Gbx gene duplicated fourfold in vertebrates, with subsequent loss of two duplicates. Amphioxus Gbx is expressed in all germ layers in the posterior 75% of the embryo, and in the CNS, the Gbx and Otx domains abut at the boundary between the cerebral vesicle (forebrain/midbrain) and the hindbrain. Thus, the genetic machinery to position the MHB was present in the protochordate ancestors of the vertebrates, but is insufficient for induction of organizer genes. Comparison with hemichordates suggests that anterior Otx and posterior Gbx domains were probably overlapping in the ancestral deuterostome and came to abut at the MHB early in the chordate lineage before MHB organizer properties evolved. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Schubert, M, Holland ND, Laudet V, Holland LZ.  2006.  A retinoic acid-Hox hierarchy controls both anterior/posterior patterning and neuronal specification in the developing central nervous system of the cephalochordate amphioxus. Developmental Biology. 296:190-202.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.04.457   AbstractWebsite

Retinoic acid (RA) mediates both anterior/posterior patterning and neuronal specification in the vertebrate central nervous system (CNS). However, the molecular mechanisms downstream of RA are not well understood. To investigate these mechanisms, we used the invertebrate chordate amphioxus, in which the CNS, although containing only about 20,000 neurons in adults, like the vertebrate CNS, has a forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain, and spinal cord and is regionalized by RA-signaling. Here we show, first, that domains of genes with expression normally limited to diencephalon and midbrain are generally not affected by altered RA-signaling, second, that contrary to previous reports, not only Hox1, 3, and 4, but also Hox2 and Hox6 are collinearly expressed in the amphioxus CNS, and third, that collinear expression of all these Hox genes is controlled by RA-signaling. Finally, we show that Hox1 is involved in mediating both the role of RA-signaling in regionalization of the hindbrain and in specification of hindbrain motor neurons. Thus, morpholino knock-down of the single amphioxus Hox1 mimics the effects of treatments with an RA-antagonist. This analysis establishes RA-dependent regulation of collinear Hox expression as a feature common to the chordate CNS and indicates that the RA-Hox hierarchy functions both in proper anterior/posterior patterning of the developing CNS and in specification of neuronal identity. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Holland, LZ.  1996.  Muscle development in amphioxus: Morphology, biochemistry, and molecular biology. Israel Journal of Zoology. 42:S235-S246. AbstractWebsite

This review concerns the structure and biochemistry of muscle in amphioxus. Most work has focused on the segmented swimming (axial) muscles. These muscles derive from the medial wall of the somites, which arise as evaginations from the gut wall. The myotomal muscle cells of amphioxus, unlike those of vertebrates, never fuse, but remain mononucleate, contain only one myofibril, and span the entire length of the myotome. The muscle cells are very thin and lack a T-tubule system. There are two, maybe three, types of fibers. Innervation is via muscle tails, which contact the basal lamina of the nerve cord. The notochord is also composed of striated muscle cells, which similarly send muscle tails to the nerve cord. Less is known about the biochemistry of muscle. The notochord, like molluskan catch muscle, contains paramyosin. Among the muscle-specific proteins sequenced are alkali myosin light chain, troponin C and sarcoplasmic calcium-binding proteins, calcium-vector protein, and its target protein calcium vector-target protein. The only muscle regulatory factors identified are two MyoD proteins. Almost nothing is known about muscle enzymes in amphioxus.