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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.

Koop, D, Holland ND, Semon M, Alvarez S, de Lera AR, Laudet V, Holland LZ, Schubert M.  2010.  Retinoic acid signaling targets Hox genes during the amphioxus gastrula stage: Insights into early anterior-posterior patterning of the chordate body plan. Developmental Biology. 338:98-106.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.11.016   AbstractWebsite

Previous studies of vertebrate development have shown that retinoic acid (RA) signaling at the gastrula stage strongly influences anterior-posterior (A-P) patterning of the neurula and later stages. However, much less is known about the more immediate effects of RA signaling on gene transcription and developmental patterning at the gastrula stage. To investigate the targets of RA signaling during the gastrula stage, we used the basal chordate amphioxus, in which gastrulation involves very minimal tissue movements. First, we determined the effect of altered RA signaling on expression of 42 genes (encoding transcription factors and components of major signaling cascades) known to be expressed in restricted domains along the A-P axis during the gastrula and early neurula stage. Of these 42 genes, the expression domains during gastrulation of only four (Hox1, Hox3, HNF3-1 and Wnt3) were spatially altered by exposure of the embryos to excess RA or to the RA antagonist BMS009. Moreover, blocking protein synthesis with puromycin before adding RA or BMS009 showed that only three of these genes (Hox1, Hox3 and HNF3-1) are direct RA targets at the gastrula stage. From these results we conclude that in the amphioxus gastrula RA signaling primarily acts via regulation of Hox transcription to establish positional identities along the A-P axis and that Hox1, Hox3, HNF3-1 and Wnt3 constitute a basal module of RA action during chordate gastrulation. (C) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Holland, LZ, Short S.  2008.  Gene Duplication, Co-Option and Recruitment during the Origin of the Vertebrate Brain from the Invertebrate Chordate Brain. Brain Behavior and Evolution. 72:91-105.   10.1159/000151470   AbstractWebsite

The brain of the basal chordate amphioxus has been compared to the vertebrate diencephalic forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain and spinal cord on the basis of the cell architecture from serial electron micrographs and patterns of developmental gene expression. In addition, genes specifying the neural plate and neural plate border as well as Gbx and Otx, that position the midbrain/hindbrain boundary (MHB), are expressed in comparable patterns in amphioxus and vertebrates. However, migratory neural crest is lacking in amphioxus, and although it has homologs of the genes that specify neural crest, they are not expressed at the edges of the amphioxus neural plate. Similarly, amphioxus has the genes that specify organizer properties of the MHB, but they are not expressed at the Gbx/Otx boundary as in vertebrates. Thus, the genetic machinery that created migratory neural crest and an MHB organizer was present in the ancestral chordate, but only co-opted for these new roles in vertebrates. Analyses with the amphioxus genome project strongly support the idea of two rounds of whole genome duplication with subsequent gene losses in the vertebrate lineage. Duplicates of developmental genes were preferentially retained. Although some genes apparently acquired roles in neural crest prior to these genome duplications, other key genes (e. g., FoxD3 in neural crest and Wnt1 at the MHB) were recruited into the respective gene networks after one or both genome duplications, suggesting that such an expansion of the genetic toolkit was critical for the evolution of these structures. The toolkit has also increased by alternative splicing. Contrary to the general rule, for at least one gene family with key roles in neural crest and the MHB, namely Pax genes, alternative splicing has not decreased subsequent to gene duplication. Thus, vertebrates have a much larger number of proteins available for mediating new functions in these tissues. The creation of new splice forms typically changes protein structure more than evolution of the protein after gene duplication. The functions of particular isoforms of key proteins expressed at the MHB and in neural crest have only just begun to be studied. Their roles in modulating gene networks may turn out to rival gene duplication for facilitating the evolution of structures such as neural crest and the MHB. Copyright (c) 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel

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.