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Koop, D, Holland LZ, Setiamarga D, Schubert M, Holland ND.  2011.  Tail regression induced by elevated retinoic acid signaling in amphioxus larvae occurs by tissue remodeling, not cell death. Evolution & Development. 13:427-435.   10.1111/j.1525-142X.2011.00501.x   AbstractWebsite

The vitamin A derived morphogen retinoic acid (RA) is known to function in the regulation of tissue proliferation and differentiation. Here, we show that exogenous RA applied to late larvae of the invertebrate chordate amphioxus can reverse some differentiated states. Although treatment with the RA antagonist BMS009 has no obvious effect on late larvae of amphioxus, administration of excess RA alters the morphology of the posterior end of the body. The anus closes over, and gut contents accumulate in the hindgut. In addition, the larval tail fin regresses, although little apoptosis takes place. This fin normally consists of columnar epidermal cells, each characterized by a ciliary rootlet running all the way from an apical centriole to the base of the cell and likely contributing substantial cytoskeletal support. After a few days of RA treatment, the rootlet becomes disrupted, and the cell shape changes from columnar to cuboidal. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) shows fragments of the rootlet in the basal cytoplasm of the cuboidal cell. A major component of the ciliary rootlet in amphioxus is the protein Rootletin, which is encoded by a single AmphiRootletin gene. This gene is highly expressed in the tail epithelial cells of control larvae, but becomes downregulated after about a day of RA treatment, and the breakup of the ciliary rootlet soon follows. The effect of excess RA on these epidermal cells of the larval tail in amphioxus is unlike posterior regression in developing zebrafish, where elevated RA signaling alters connective tissues of mesodermal origin. In contrast, however, the RA-induced closure of the amphioxus anus has parallels in the RA-induced caudal regression syndrome of mammals.

Escriva, H, Holland ND, Gronemeyer H, Laudet C, Holland LZ.  2002.  The retinoic acid signaling pathway regulates anterior/posterior patterning in the nerve cord and pharynx of amphioxus, a chordate lacking neural crest. Development. 129:2905-2916. AbstractWebsite

Amphioxus, the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates, has a notochord, segmental axial musculature, pharyngeal gill slits and dorsal hollow nerve cord, but lacks neural crest. In amphioxus, as in vertebrates, exogenous retinoic acid (RA) posteriorizes the embryo. The mouth and gill slits never form, AmphiPax1, which is normally downregulated where gill slits form, remains upregulated and AmphiHox1 expression shifts anteriorly in the nerve cord. To dissect the role of RA signaling in patterning chordate embryos, we have cloned the single retinoic acid receptor (AmphiRAR), retinoid X receptor (AmphiRXR) and an orphan receptor (AmphiTR2/4) from amphioxus. AmphiTR2/4 inhibits AmphiRAR-AmphiRXR-mediated transactivation in the presence of RA by competing for DR5 or IR7 retinoic acid response elements (RAREs). The 5' untranslated region of AmphiTR2/4 contains an IR7 element, suggesting possible auto- and RA-regulation. The patterns of AmphiTR2/4 and AmphiRAR expression during embryogenesis are largely complementary: AmphiTR2/4 is strongly expressed in the cerebral vesicle (homologous to the diencephalon plus anterior midbrain), while AmphiRAR expression is high in the equivalent of the hindbrain and spinal cord. Similarly, while AmphiTR2/4 is expressed most strongly in the anterior and posterior thirds of the endoderm, the highest AmphiRAR expression is in the middle third. Expression of AmphiRAR is upregulated by exogenous RA and completely downregulated by the RA antagonist BMS009. Moreover, BMS009 expands the pharynx posteriorly; the first three gill slit primordia are elongated and shifted posteriorly, but do not penetrate, and additional, non-penetrating gill slit primordia are induced. Thus, in an organism without neural crest, initiation and penetration of gill slits appear to be separate events mediated by distinct levels of RA signaling in the pharyngeal endoderm. Although these compounds have little effect on levels of AmphiTR2/4 expression, RA shifts pharyngeal expression of AmphiTR2/4 anteriorly, while BMS009 extends it posteriorly. Collectively, our results suggest a model for anteroposterior patterning of the amphioxus nerve cord and pharynx, which is probably applicable to vertebrates as well, in which a low anterior level of AmphiRAR (caused, at least in part, by competitive inhibition by AmphiTR2/4) is necessary for patterning the forebrain and formation of gill slits, the posterior extent of both being set by a sharp increase in the level of AmphiRAR.