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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.

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

Kusakabe, R, Satoh N, Holland LZ, Kusakabe T.  1999.  Genomic organization and evolution of actin genes in the amphioxus Branchiostoma belcheri and Branchiostoma floridae. Gene. 227:1-10.   10.1016/s0378-1119(98)00608-8   AbstractWebsite

We previously described the cDNA. cloning and expression patterns of actin genes from amphioxus Branchiostoma floridae (Kusakabe, R., Kusakabe, T., Satoh, N., Holland, N.D., Holland, L.Z., 1997. Differential gene expression and intracellular mRNA localization of amphioxus actin isoforms throughout development: implications for conserved mechanisms of chordate development. Dev. Genes Evol. 207, 203-215). In the present paper, we report the characterization of cDNA clones for actin genes from a closely related species, Branchiostoma belcheri, and the exon-intron organization of B. floridae actin genes. Each of these two amphioxus species has two types of actin genes, muscle and cytoplasmic. The coding and non-coding regions of each type are well-conserved between the two species. A comparison of nucleotide sequences of muscle actin genes between the two species suggests that a gene conversion may have occurred between two B. floridae muscle actin genes BfMA1 and BfMA2. From the conserved positions of introns between actin genes of amphioxus and those of other deuterostomes, the evolution of deuterostome actin genes can be inferred. Thus, the presence of an intron at codon 328/329 in Vertebrate muscle and cytoplasmic actin genes but not in any known actin gene in other deuterostomes suggests that a gene conversion may have occurred between muscle and cytoplasmic actin genes during the early evolution of the vertebrates after separation from other deuterostomes. A Southern blot analysis of genomic DNA revealed that the amphioxus genome contains multiple muscle and cytoplasmic actin genes. Some of these actin genes seem to have arisen from recent duplication and gene conversion. Our findings suggest that the multiple genes encoding muscle and cytoplasmic actin isoforms arose independently in each of the three chordate lineages and that gene duplications and gene conversions established the extant actin multigene family during the evolution of chordates. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

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.