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2007
Rasmussen, SLK, Holland LZ, Schubert M, Beaster-Jones L, Holland ND.  2007.  Amphioxus AmphiDelta: Evolution of delta protein structure, segmentation, and neurogenesis. Genesis. 45:113-122.   10.1002/dvg.20278   AbstractWebsite

The amphioxus genome has a single Delta gene (AmphiDelta) encoding a protein 766 amino acids long. Comparison of Delta proteins of amphioxus and other animals indicates that AmphiDelta retains features of a basal bilaterian Delta protein-in having nine epidermal growth factor (EGF) repeats and also in having char acteristic numbers of amino acids separating successive cysteines between and within EGF repeats. During development, AmphiDelta is expressed in the forming somites, in some regions of pharyngeal endoderm, and in cells (presumably differentiating neurons) scattered in both the neural plate and ectoderm. Expression is strongly associated with cells initiating movements to separate themselves from parent epithelia, either en masse by evagination (endoderm and mesoderm) or by delamination as isolated cells (ectoderm). The AmphiDelta-expressing cells delaminating from the ectoderm apparently migrate beneath it as they begin differentiating into probable sensory neurons, suggesting a scenario for the evolutionary origin of the placode-derived neurons of vertebrate cranial ganglia. genesis 45:113-122, 2007. Published 2007 Wiley-Liss, lnc.(dagger)

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.

Yu, JK, Satou Y, Holland ND, Shin-I T, Kohara Y, Satoh N, Bronner-Fraser M, Holland LZ.  2007.  Axial patterning in cephalochordates and the evolution of the organizer. Nature. 445:613-617.   10.1038/nature05472   AbstractWebsite

The organizer of the vertebrate gastrula is an important signalling centre that induces and patterns dorsal axial structures. Although a topic of long-standing interest, the evolutionary origin of the organizer remains unclear. Here we show that the gastrula of the cephalochordate amphioxus expresses dorsal/ventral (D/V) patterning genes (for example, bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), Nodal and their antagonists) in patterns reminiscent of those of their vertebrate orthlogues, and that amphioxus embryos, like those of vertebrates, are ventralized by exogenous BMP protein. In addition, Wnt-antagonists (for example, Dkks and sFRP2-like) are expressed anteriorly, whereas Wnt genes themselves are expressed posteriorly, consistent with a role for Wnt signalling in anterior/posterior (A/P) patterning. These results suggest evolutionary conservation of the mechanisms for both D/V and A/P patterning of the early gastrula. In light of recent phylogenetic analyses placing cephalochordates basally in the chordate lineage, we propose that separate signalling centres for patterning the D/V and A/P axes may be an ancestral chordate character.

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.

2006
Beaster-Jones, L, Horton AC, Gibson-Brown JJ, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  2006.  The amphioxus T-box gene, AmphiTbx15/18/22, illuminates the origins of chordate segmentation. Evolution & Development. 8:119-129.   10.1111/j.1525-142X.2006.00083.x   AbstractWebsite

Amphioxus and vertebrates are the only deuterostomes to exhibit unequivocal somitic segmentation. The relative simplicity of the amphioxus genome makes it a favorable organism for elucidating the basic genetic network required for chordate somite development. Here we describe the developmental expression of the somite marker, AmphiTbx15/18/22, which is first expressed at the mid-gastrula stage in dorsolateral mesendoderm. At the early neurula stage, expression is detected in the first three pairs of developing somites. By the mid-neurula stage, expression is downregulated in anterior somites, and only detected in the penultimate somite primordia. In early larvae, the gene is expressed in nascent somites before they pinch off from the posterior archenteron (tail bud). Integrating functional, phylogenetic and expression data from a variety of triploblast organisms, we have reconstructed the evolutionary history of the Tbx15/18/22 subfamily. This analysis suggests that the Tbx15/18/22 gene may have played a role in patterning somites in the last common ancestor of all chordates, a role that was later conserved by its descendents following gene duplications within the vertebrate lineage. Furthermore, the comparison of expression domains within this gene subfamily reveals similarities in the genetic bases of trunk and cranial mesoderm segmentation. This lends support to the hypothesis that the vertebrate head evolved from an ancestor possessing segmented cranial mesoderm.

Holland, ND, Holland LZ.  2006.  Stage- and tissue-specific patterns of cell division in embryonic and larval tissues of amphioxus during normal development. Evolution & Development. 8:142-149.   10.1111/j.1525-142X.2006.00085.x   AbstractWebsite

The distribution of dividing cells is described for embryos and larvae of amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae) pulse labeled with bromodeoxyuridine. Because cell division is assessed for all of the developing tissues, this is the first comprehensive study of developmental cell proliferation for an animal lacking a stereotyped cell lineage. In amphioxus, cell divisions are virtually synchronous during cleavage, but become asynchronous at the blastula stage. Starting at the neurula stage, after the origin of the mesoderm, the proportion of dividing cells progressively declines in the somitic mesoderm and notochord. Other tissues, however, deviate from this pattern. For example, in the mid-neurula, there is a brief, intense burst of mitosis at the anterior end of the neural plate. Also, from the neurula through the early larval stage, all of the ectoderm cells cease dividing and develop cilia that propel the animal through the water; subsequently, in the epidermis of later larvae, mitosis resumes and the proportion of ciliated cells declines as muscular undulation gradually replaces ciliation for swimming. Finally, in the early larvae, there is a terminal arrest of cell division in three cell types that differentiate early to participate in feeding as soon as the mouth opens-namely the ciliated pharyngeal cells that produce the feeding current and the secretory cells of the club-shaped gland and endostyle that export food-trapping mucus into the pharynx. In sum, these stage- and tissue-specific changes in cell proliferation intensity illustrate how the requirements of embryonic and larval natural history can shape developmental programs.

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.

Escriva, H, Bertrand S, Germain P, Robinson-Rechavi M, Umbhauer M, Cartry J, Duffraisse M, Holland L, Gronemeyer H, Laudet V.  2006.  Neofunctionalization in vertebrates: The example of retinoic acid receptors. Plos Genetics. 2:955-965.   10.1371/journal.pgen.0020102   AbstractWebsite

Understanding the role of gene duplications in establishing vertebrate innovations is one of the main challenges of Evo-Devo (evolution of development) studies. Data on evolutionary changes in gene expression (i.e., evolution of transcription factor-cis-regulatory elements relationships) tell only part of the story; protein function, best studied by biochemical and functional assays, can also change. In this study, we have investigated how gene duplication has affected both the expression and the ligand-binding specificity of retinoic acid receptors (RARs), which play a major role in chordate embryonic development. Mammals have three paralogous RAR genes-RAR alpha, beta, and gamma-which resulted from genome duplications at the origin of vertebrates. By using pharmacological ligands selective for specific paralogues, we have studied the ligand-binding capacities of RARs from diverse chordates species. We have found that RAR beta-like binding selectivity is a synapomorphy of all chordate RARs, including a reconstructed synthetic RAR representing the receptor present in the ancestor of chordates. Moreover, comparison of expression patterns of the cephalochordate amphioxus and the vertebrates suggests that, of all the RARs, RAR beta expression has remained most similar to that of the ancestral RAR. On the basis of these results together, we suggest that while RAR beta kept the ancestral RAR role, RAR alpha and RAR gamma diverged both in ligand-binding capacity and in expression patterns. We thus suggest that neofunctionalization occurred at both the expression and the functional levels to shape RAR roles during development in vertebrates.

Lin, HC, Holland LZ, Holland ND.  2006.  Expression of the AmphiTcf gene in amphioxus: Insights into the evolution of the TCF/LEF gene family during vertebrate evolution. Developmental Dynamics. 235:3396-3403.   10.1002/dvdy.20971   AbstractWebsite

T-cell factor (TCF) and lymphoid enhancer factors (LEF) genes encode proteins that are transcription factors mediating beta-catenin/Wnt signaling. Whereas mammals have four such genes, the Florida amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae) apparently has only one such gene (AmphiTcF). From cleavage through early gastrula, cytoplasmic maternal transcripts of this gene are localized toward the animal pole. In gastrulae, AmphiTcf expression begins in the mesendoderm. In neurulae, there is expression in the pharynx, hindgut, anterior notochord, somites, and at the anterior end of the neural plate. In early larvae, expression is detectable in the floor of the diencephalon, notochord, tail bud, forming somites, pharynx, and ciliated pit (a presumed homolog of the vertebrate adenohypophysis). Phylogenetic analysis of TCF/LEF proteins placed AmphiTcf as the sister group of a clade comprising vertebrate Tcf1, Lef1, Tcf3, and Tcf4. Comparison of developmental expression for amphioxus AmphiTcf and vertebrate TCF/LEF genes indicates that this gene family has undergone extensive subfunctionalization and neofunctionalization during vertebrate evolution.

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.

Langeland, JA, Holland LZ, Chastain RA, Holland ND.  2006.  An amphioxus LIM-homeobox gene, AmphiLim1/5, expressed early in the invaginating organizer region and later in differentiating cells of the kidney and central nervous system. International Journal of Biological Sciences. 2:110-116. AbstractWebsite

A LIM-homeobox gene, AmphiLim1/5, from the Florida amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae) encodes a protein that phylogenetic analysis positions at the base of a clade comprising vertebrate Lim1 and Lim5. Amphioxus AmphiLim1/5 is expressed in domains that are a composite of those of vertebrate Lim1 and Lim5, which evidently underwent subfunctionalization after duplication of an ancestral protochordate Lim1/5. During amphioxus development, transcription is first detected in the ectoderm of the blastula. Then, in the gastrula, a second expression domain appears in the mesendoderm just within the dorsal lip of the blastopore, a region known to have organizer properties in amphioxus. This mesendodermal expression corresponds to Lim1 expression in the Spemann organizer of vertebrates. At least one of the functions of vertebrate Lim1 in the organizer is to control the transcription of genes involved in cell and tissue movements during gastrulation, and a comparable early function seems likely for AmphiLim1/5 during gastrular invagination of amphioxus. Later embryos and larvae of amphioxus express AmphiLim1/5 in clusters of cells, probably motoneurons, in the anterior part of the central nervous system, in the hindgut, in Hatschek's right diverticulum (a rudiment of the rostral coelom), and in the wall of the first somite on the left side (a precursor of Hatschek's nephridium). In the early larva, expression continues in neural cells, in Hatschek's nephridium, in the wall of the rostral coelom, in the epidermis of the upper lip, and in mesoderm cells near the opening of the second gill slit. The developmental expression in Hatschek's nephridium is especially interesting because it helps support the homology between this amphioxus organ and the vertebrate pronephros.

Langeland, JA, Hollandk LZ, Chastain RA, Holland ND.  2006.  An amphioxus LIM-homeobox gene, AmphiLim1/5, expressed early in the invaginating organizer region and later in differentiating cells of the kidney and central nervous system. International Journal of Biological Science. 2:110-116.
Marlétaz, F, Holland LZ, Laudet V, Schubert M.  2006.  Retinoic acid signaling and the evolution of chordates. International Journal of Biological Science. 2(2):38-47.
Holland, LZ.  2006.  A SINE in the genome of the cephalochordate amphioxus is an Alu element. International Journal of Biological Sciences. 2.(2):61-65.
2005
Bardet, PL, Schubert M, Horard B, Holland LZ, Laudet V, Holland ND, Vanacker JM.  2005.  Expression of estrogen-receptor related receptors in amphioxus and zebrafish: implications for the evolution of posterior brain segmentation at the invertebrate-to-vertebrate transition. Evolution & Development. 7:223-233.   10.1111/j.1525-142X.2005.05025.x   AbstractWebsite

The evolutionary origin of vertebrate hindbrain segmentation is unclear since the amphioxus, the closest living invertebrate relative to the vertebrates, possesses a hindbrain homolog that displays no gross morphological segmentation. Three of the estrogen-receptor related (ERR) receptors are segmentally expressed in the zebrafish hindbrain, suggesting that their common ancestor was expressed in a similar, reiterated manner. We have also cloned and determined the developmental expression of the single homolog of the vertebrate ERR genes in the amphioxus (AmphiERR). This gene is also expressed in a segmented manner in a region considered homologous to the vertebrate hindbrain. In contrast to the expression of amphioxus islet (a LIM-homeobox gene that also labels motoneurons), AmphiERR expression persists longer in the hindbrain homolog and does not later extend to additional posterior cells. In addition, AmphiERR and one of its vertebrate homologs (ERR alpha) are expressed in the developing somitic musculature of amphioxus and zebrafish, respectively. Altogether, our results are consistent with fine structural evidence suggesting that the amphioxus hindbrain is segmented, and indicate that chordate ERR gene expression is a marker for both hindbrain and muscle segmentation. Furthermore, our data support an evolution model of chordate brain segmentation: originally, the program for anterior segmentation in the protochordate ancestors of the vertebrates resided in the developing axial mesoderm which imposed reiterated patterning on the adjacent neural tube; during early vertebrate evolution, this segmentation program was transferred to and controlled by the neural tube.

Holland, LZ.  2005.  Non-neural ectoderm is really neural: Evolution of developmental patterning mechanisms in the non-neural ectoderm of chordates and the problem of sensory cell homologies. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B-Molecular and Developmental Evolution. 304B:304-323.   10.1002/jez.21038   AbstractWebsite

In chordates, the ectoderm is divided into the neuroectoderm and the so-called non-neural ectoderm. In spite of its name, however, the non-neural ectoderm contains. numerous sensory cells. Therefore, the term "non-neural" ectoderm should be replaced by "general ectoderm." At least in amphioxus and tunicates and possibly in vertebrates as well, both the neuroectoderm and the general ectoderm are patterned anterior/posteriorly by mechanisms involving retinoic acid and Hox genes. In amphioxus and tunicates the ectodermal sensory cells, which have a wide range of ciliary and microvillar configurations, are mostly primary neurons sending axons to the CNS, although a minority lack axons. In contrast, vertebrate mechanosensory cells, called hair cells, are all secondary neurons that lack axons and have a characteristic eccentric cilium adjacent to a group of microvilli of graded lengths. It has been highly controversial whether the ectodermal sensory cells in the oral siphons of adult tunicates are homologous to vertebrate hair cells. In some species of tunicates, these cells appear to be secondary neurons, and microvillar and ciliary configurations of some of these cells approach those of vertebrate hair cells. However, none of the tunicate cells has all the characteristics of a hair cell, and there is a high degree of variation among ectodermal sensory cells within and between different species. Thus, similarities between the ectodermal sensory cells of any one species of tunicate and craniate hair cells may well represent convergent evolution rather than homology.

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.

Holland, LZ, Panfilio KA, Chastain R, Schubert M, Holland ND.  2005.  Nuclear beta-catenin promotes non-neural ectoderm and posterior cell fates in amphioxus embryos. Developmental Dynamics. 233:1430-1443.   10.1002/dvdy.20473   AbstractWebsite

In vertebrate development, Wnt/beta-catenin signaling has an early role in specification of dorsal/anterior identity and a late one in posterior specification. To understand the evolution of these roles, we cloned beta-catenin from the invertebrate chordate amphioxus. The exon/intron organization of beta-catenin is highly conserved between amphioxus and other animals including a cnidarian, but not Drosophila. In development, amphioxus P-catenin is concentrated in all nuclei from the 16-cell stage until the onset of gastrulation when it becomes undetectable in presumptive mesendoderm. Li+, which up-regulates Wnt/beta-catenin signaling, had no detectable effect on axial patterning when applied before the late blastula stage, suggesting that a role for P-catenin in specification of dorsal/anterior identity may be a vertebrate innovation. From the mid-gastrula through the neurula stage, the highest levels of nuclear R-catenin are around the blastopore. In the early neurula, P-catenin is down-regulated in the neural plate, but remains high in adjacent non-neural ectoderm. Embryos treated with Li+ at the late blastula stage are markedly posteriorized and lack a neural plate. These results suggest that in amphioxus, as in vertebrates, downregulation of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling in the neural plate is necessary for maintenance of the neuroectoderm and that a major evolutionarily conserved role of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is to specify posterior identity and pattern the anterior/posterior axis. (c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

2004
Holland, LZ, Laudet V, Schubert M.  2004.  The chordate amphioxus: an emerging model organism for developmental biology. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. 61:2290-2308.   10.1007/s00018-004-4075-2   AbstractWebsite

The cephalochordate amphioxus is the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates. It is vertebrate-like in having a dorsal, hollow nerve cord, notochord, segmental muscles, pharyngeal gill slits and a post-anal tail that develops from a tail bud. However, amphioxus is less complex than vertebrates, lacking neural crest and having little or no mesenchyme. The genetic programs patterning the amphioxus embryo are also similar to those patterning vertebrate embryos, although the amphioxus genome lacks the extensive gene duplications characteristic of vertebrates. This relative structural and genomic simplicity in a vertebrate-like organism makes amphioxus ideal as a model organism for understanding mechanisms of vertebrate development.

Yu, JK, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  2004.  Tissue-specific expression of FoxD reporter constructs in amphioxus embryos. Developmental Biology. 274:452-461.   10.1016/j.ydbio.2004.07.010   AbstractWebsite

Cephalochordates (amphioxus), the closest living invertebrate relatives of the vertebrates, are key to understanding the evolution of developmental mechanisms during the invertebrate-to-vertebrate transition. However, a major impediment to amphioxus as a model organism for developmental biology has been the inability to introduce transgenes or other macromolecules into the embryos. Here, we report the development of a reproducible method for microinjection of amphioxus eggs. Specifically, we show that expression of a LacZ reporter construct including 6.3 kb of AmphiFoxD upstream regulatory DNA recapitulates expression of the endogenous gene in the nerve cord, somites, and notochord. We have also identified the 1.6 kb at the 5' end of this region as essential for expression in the first two of these domains and the 4.7 kb at the 3' end as sufficient for expression in the notochord. This study, which is the first report of a method for introduction of large molecules such as DNA into amphioxus embryos, opens the way for studies of gene regulation and function in amphioxus and for comparative studies with vertebrates to understand the relationship between the extensive gene duplications that occurred within the vertebrate lineage and the evolution of vertebrate innovations such as neural crest. (C) 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Schubert, M, Holland ND, Escriva H, Holland LZ, Laudet V.  2004.  Retinoic acid influences anteroposterior positioning of epidermal sensory neurons and their gene expression in a developing chordate (amphioxus). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101:10320-10325.   10.1073/pnas.0403216101   AbstractWebsite

In developing chordates, retinoic acid (RA) signaling patterns the rostrocaudal body axis globally and affects gene expression locally in some differentiating cell populations. Here we focus on development of epidermal sensory neurons in an invertebrate chordate (amphioxus) to determine how RA signaling influences their rostrocaudal distribution and gene expression (for AmphiCoe, a neural precursor gene; for amphioxus islet and AmphiERR, two neural differentiation genes; and for AmphiHox1,-3, -4, and -6). Treatments with RA or an RA antagonist (BMS009) shift the distribution of developing epidermal neurons anteriorly or posteriorly, respectively. These treatments also affect gene expression patterns in the epidermal neurons, suggesting that RA levels may influence specification of neuronal subtypes. Although colinear expression of Hox genes is well known for the amphioxus central nervous system,we find an unexpected comparable colinearity for AmphiHox1, -3, -4, and -6 in the developing epidermis; moreover, RA levels affect the anteroposterior extent of these Hox expression domains, suggesting that RA signaling controls a colinear Hox code for anteroposterior patterning of the amphioxus epidermis. Thus, in amphioxus, the developing peripheral nervous system appears to be structured by mechanisms parallel to those that structure the central nervous system. One can speculate that, during evolution, an ancestral deuterostome that structured its panepidermal nervous system with an RA-influenced Hox code gave rise to chordates in which this patterning mechanism persisted within the epidermal elements of the peripheral nervous system and was transferred to the neuroectoderm as the central nervous system condensed dorsally.

Holland, LZ, Yu JK.  2004.  Cephalochordate (amphioxus) embryos: Procurement, culture, and basic methods. Development of Sea Urchins, Ascidians, and Other Invertebrate Deuterostomes: Experimental Approaches. 74:195-215.Website
2003
Mazet, F, Yu JK, Liberles DA, Holland LZ, Shimeld SM.  2003.  Phylogenetic relationships of the Fox (Forkhead) gene family in the Bilateria. Gene. 316:79-89.   10.1016/s0378-1119(03)00741-8   AbstractWebsite

The Forkhead or Fox gene family encodes putative transcription factors. There are at least four Fox genes in yeast, 16 in Drosophila melanogaster (Dm) and 42 in humans. Recently, vertebrate Fox genes have been classified into 17 groups named FoxA to FoxQ [Genes Dev. 14 (2000) 142]. Here, we extend this analysis to invertebrates, using available sequences from D. melanogaster, Anopheles gambiae (Ag), Caenorhabditis elegans (Ce), the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis (Ci) and amphioxus Branchiostoma floridae (Bf), from which we also cloned several Fox genes. Phylogenetic analyses lend support to the previous overall subclassification of vertebrate genes, but suggest that four subclasses (FoxJ, L, N and Q) could be further subdivided to reflect their relationships to invertebrate genes. We were unable to identify orthologs of Fox subclasses E, H, I, J, M and Q1 in D. melanogaster, A. gambiae or C. elegans, suggesting either considerable loss in ecdysozoans or the evolution of these subclasses in the deuterostome lineage. Our analyses suggest that the common ancestor of protostomes and deuterostomes had a minimum complement of 14 Fox genes. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Schubert, M, Meulemans D, Bronner-Fraser M, Holland LZ, Holland ND.  2003.  Differential mesodermal expression of two amphioxus MyoD family members (AmphiMRF1 and AmphiMRF2). Gene Expression Patterns. 3:199-202.   10.1016/s1567-133x(02)00099-6   AbstractWebsite

To explore the evolution of myogenic regulatory factors in chordates, we isolated two MyoD family genes (AmphiMRF1 and AmphiMRF2) from amphioxus. AmphiMRF1 is first expressed at the late gastrula in the paraxial mesoderm. As the first somites form, expression is restricted to their myotomal region. In the early larva, expression is strongest in the most anterior and most posterior somites. AmphiMRF2 transcription begins at mid/late gastrula in the paraxial mesoderm, but never spreads into its most anterior region. Through much of the neurula stage, AmphiMRF2 expression is strong in the myotomal region of all somites except the most anterior pair; by late neurula expression is downregulated except in the most posterior somites forming just rostral to the tail bud. These two MRF genes of amphioxus have partly overlapping patterns of mesodermal expression and evidently duplicated independent of the diversification of the vertebrate MRF family. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Yu, JK, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  2003.  AmphiFoxQ2, a novel winged helix/forkhead gene, exclusively marks the anterior end of the amphioxus embryo. Development Genes and Evolution. 213:102-105.   10.1007/s00427-003-0302-3   AbstractWebsite

A full-length FoxQ-related gene (AmphiFoxQ2) was isolated from amphioxus. Expression is first detectable in the animal/anterior hemisphere at the mid blastula stage. The midpoint of this expression domain coincides with the anterior pole of the embryo and is offset dorsally by about 20degrees from the animal pole. During the gastrula stage, expression is limited to the anterior ectoderm. By the early neurula stage, expression remains in the anterior ectoderm and also appears in the adjacent anterior mesendoderm. By the early larval stages, expression is detectable in the anteriormost ectoderm and in the rostral tip of the notochord. AmphiFoxQ2 is never expressed anywhere except at the anterior tip of amphioxus embryos and larvae. This is the first gene known that exclusively marks the anterior pole of chordate embryos. It may, therefore, play an important role in establishing and/or maintaining the anterior/ posterior axis.