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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

Holland, LZ.  2015.  The origin and evolution of chordate nervous systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 370   10.1098/rstb.2015.0048   AbstractWebsite

In the past 40 years, comparisons of developmental gene expression and mechanisms of development (evodevo) joined comparative morphology as tools for reconstructing long-extinct ancestral forms. Unfortunately, both approaches typically give congruent answers only with closely related organisms. Chordate nervous systems are good examples. Classical studies alone left open whether the vertebrate brain was a new structure or evolved from the anterior end of an ancestral nerve cord like that of modern amphioxus. Evodevo plus electron microscopy showed that the amphioxus brain has a diencephalic forebrain, small midbrain, hindbrain and spinal cord with parts of the genetic mechanisms for the midbrain/hindbrain boundary, zona limitans intrathalamica and neural crest. Evodevo also showed how extra genes resulting from whole-genome duplications in vertebrates facilitated evolution of new structures like neural crest. Understanding how the chordate central nervous system (CNS) evolved from that of the ancestral deuterostome has been truly challenging. The majority view is that this ancestor had a CNS with a brain that gave rise to the chordate CNS and, with loss of a discrete brain, to one of the two hemichordate nerve cords. The minority view is that this ancestor had no nerve cord; those in chordates and hemichordates evolved independently. New techniques such as phylostratigraphy may help resolve this conundrum.

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.

Holland, LZ, Cross NL.  1983.  The Ph within the Jelly Coat of Sea-Urchin Eggs. Developmental Biology. 99:258-260.   10.1016/0012-1606(83)90274-9   Website
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, Holland LZ, Holland ND, Jacobs DK.  2000.  A phylogenetic tree of the Wnt genes based on all available full-length sequences, including five from the cephalochordate amphioxus. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 17:1896-1903. AbstractWebsite

The Wnt gene family is large, and new members are still being discovered. We constructed a parsimony tree for the Wnt family based on all 82 of the full-length sequences currently available. The inclusion of sequences from the cephalochordate amphioxus is especially useful in comprehensive gene trees, because the amphioxus genes in each subfamily often mark the base of the vertebrate diversification. We thus isolated full-length cDNAs of five amphioxus War genes (AmphiWnt1, AmphiWnt4, AmphiWnt7, AmphiWnt8, and AmphiWnt11) for addition to the overall War family tree. The analysis combined amino acid and nucleotide sequences (excluding third codon positions), taking into account 97% of the available data for each sequence. This combinatorial method had the advantage of generating a single most-parsimonious tree that was trichotomy-free. The reliability of the nodes was assessed by both jackknifing and Bremer support (decay index). A regression analysis revealed that branch length was strongly correlated with branch support, and possible reasons for this pattern are discussed. The tree topology suggested that in amphioxus, at least an AmphiWnt5 and an AmphiWnt10 have yet to be discovered.

Gibson-Brown, JJ, Osoegawa K, McPherson JD, Waterston RH, de Jong PJ, Rokhsar DS, Holland LZ.  2003.  A proposal to sequence the amphioxus genome submitted to the joint genome institute of the US department of energy. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B-Molecular and Developmental Evolution. 300B:5-22.   10.1002/jez.b.00042   Website
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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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, Holland PWH, Holland ND.  1996.  Revealing homologies between body parts of distantly related animals by in situ hydridization to developmental genes: Amphioxus vs vertebrates. Molecular zoology : advances, strategies, and protocols. ( Ferraris JD, Palumbi SR, Eds.).:267-282,473-483., New York: Wiley-Liss Abstract
Holland, LZ, Holland ND.  2007.  A revised fate map for amphioxus and the evolution of axial patterning in chordates. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 47:360-372.   10.1093/icb/icm064   AbstractWebsite

The chordates include vertebrates plus two groups of invertebrates (the cephalochordates and tunicates). Previous embryonic fate maps of the cephalochordate amphioxus (Branchiostoma) were influenced by preconceptions that early development in amphioxus and ascidian tunicates should be fundamentally the same and that the early amphioxus embryo, like that of amphibians, should have ventral mesoderm. Although detailed cell lineage tracing in amphioxus has not been done because of limited availability of the embryos and because cleavage is radial and holoblastic with the blastomeres nearly equal in size and not tightly adherent until the mid-blastula stage, a compilation of data from gene expression and function, blastomere isolation and dye labeling allows a more realistic fate map to be drawn. The revised fate map is substantially different from that of ascidians. It shows (1) that the anterior pole of the amphioxus embryo is offset dorsally from the animal pole only by about 20 degrees, (2) that the ectoderm/mesendoderm boundary (the future rim of the blastopore) is at the equator of the blastula, which approximately coincides with the 3rd cleavage plane, and (3) that there is no ventral mesoderm during the gastrula stage. Involution or ingression of cells over the blastopore lip is negligible, and the blastopore, which is posterior, closes centripetally as if by a purse string. During the gastrula stage, the animal pole shifts ventrally, coming to lie about 20 degrees ventral to the anterior tip of the late gastrula/early neurula. Comparisons of the embryos of amphioxus and vertebrates indicate that in spite of large differences in the mechanics of cleavage and gastrulation, anterior/posterior and dorsal/ventral patterning occur by homologous genetic mechanisms. Therefore, the small, nonyolky embryo of amphioxus is probably a reasonable approximation of the basal chordate embryo before the evolution of determinate cleavage in the tunicates and the evolution large amounts of yolk in basal vertebrates.

Koop, D, Chen J, Theodosiou M, Carvalho JE, Alvarez S, de Lera AR, Holland LZ, Schubert M.  2014.  Roles of retinoic acid and Tbx1/10 in pharyngeal segmentation: amphioxus and the ancestral chordate condition. Evodevo. 5   10.1186/2041-9139-5-36   AbstractWebsite

Background: Although chordates descend from a segmented ancestor, the evolution of head segmentation has been very controversial for over 150 years. Chordates generally possess a segmented pharynx, but even though anatomical evidence and gene expression analyses suggest homologies between the pharyngeal apparatus of invertebrate chordates, such as the cephalochordate amphioxus, and vertebrates, these homologies remain contested. We, therefore, decided to study the evolution of the chordate head by examining the molecular mechanisms underlying pharyngeal morphogenesis in amphioxus, an animal lacking definitive neural crest. Results: Focusing on the role of retinoic acid ( RA) in post-gastrulation pharyngeal morphogenesis, we found that during gastrulation, RA signaling in the endoderm is required for defining pharyngeal and non-pharyngeal domains and that this process involves active degradation of RA anteriorly in the embryo. Subsequent extension of the pharyngeal territory depends on the creation of a low RA environment and is coupled to body elongation. RA further functions in pharyngeal segmentation in a regulatory network involving the mutual inhibition of RA-and Tbx1/10-dependent signaling. Conclusions: These results indicate that the involvement of RA signaling and its interactions with Tbx1/10 in head segmentation preceded the evolution of neural crest and were thus likely present in the ancestral chordate. Furthermore, developmental comparisons between different deuterostome models suggest that the genetic mechanisms for pharyngeal segmentation are evolutionary ancient and very likely predate the origin of chordates.

Holland, ND, Holland LZ, Holland PWH.  2015.  Scenarios for the making of vertebrates. Nature. 520:450-455.   10.1038/nature14433   AbstractWebsite

Over the past 200 years, almost every invertebrate phylum has been proposed as a starting point for evolving vertebrates. Most of these scenarios are outdated, but several are still seriously considered. The short-range transition from ancestral invertebrate chordates (similar to amphioxus and tunicates) to vertebrates is well accepted. However, longer-range transitions leading up to the invertebrate chordates themselves are more controversial. Opinion is divided between the annelid and the enteropneust scenarios, predicting, respectively, a complex or a simple ancestor for bilaterian animals. Deciding between these ideas will be facilitated by further comparative studies of multicellular animals, including enigmatic taxa such as xenacoelomorphs.

Holland, ND, Panganiban G, Henyey EL, Holland LZ.  1996.  Sequence and developmental expression of AmphiDII, an amphioxus Distal-less gene transcribed in the ectoderm, epidermis and nervous system: Insights into evolution of craniate forebrain and neural crest. Development. 122:2911-2920. AbstractWebsite

The dynamic expression patterns of the single amphioxus Distal-less homolog (AmphiDll) during development are consistent with successive roles of this gene in global regionalization of the ectoderm, establishment of the dorsoventral axis, specification of migratory epidermal cells early in neurulation and the specification of forebrain, Such a multiplicity of Distal-less functions probably represents an ancestral chordate condition and, during craniate evolution, when this gene diversified into a family of six or so members, the original functions evidently tended to be parcelled out among the descendant genes, In the amphioxus gastrula, AmphiDll is expressed throughout the animal hemisphere (presumptive ectoderm), but is soon downregulated dorsally (in the presumptive neural plate), During early neurulation, AmphiDll-expressing epidermal cells flanking the neural plate extend lamellipodia, appear to migrate over it and meet mid-dorsally, Midway in neurulation, cells near the anterior end of the neural plate begin expressing AmphiDll and, as neurulation terminates, these cells are incorporated into the dorsal part of the neural tube, which forms by a curling of the neural plate, This group of AmphiDII-expressing neural cells and a second group expressing the gene a little later and even more anteriorly in the neural tube demarcate a region that comprises the anterior three/fourths of the cerebral vesicle; this region of the amphioxus neural tube, as judged by neural expression domains of craniate Distal-less-related genes, is evidently homologous to the craniate forebrain, Our results suggest that craniates evolved from an amphioxus-like creature that had the beginnings of a forebrain and possibly a precursor of neural crest - namely, the cell population leading the epidermal overgrowth of the neural plate during early neurulation.

Venkatesh, TV, Holland ND, Holland LZ, Su MT, Bodmer R.  1999.  Sequence and developmental expression of amphioxus AmphiNk2-1: insights into the evolutionary origin of the vertebrate thyroid gland and forebrain. Development Genes and Evolution. 209:254-259. AbstractWebsite

We characterized an amphioxus NK-2 homeobox gene (AmphiNk2-1), a homologue of vertebrate Nkx2-1, which is involved in the development of the central nervous system and thyroid gland. At the early neurula stage of amphioxus, AmphiNk2-1 expression is first detected medially in the neural plate. By the mid-neurula stage, expression is localized ventrally in the nerve cord and also begins in the endoderm. During the late neurula stage, the ventral neural expression becomes transiently segmented posteriorly and is then down-regulated except in the cerebral vesicle at the anterior end of the central nervous system. Within the cerebral vesicle AmphiNk2-1 is expressed in a broad ventral domain, probably comprising both the floor plate and basal plate regions: this pattern is comparable to Nkx2-1 expression in the mouse diencephalon. In the anterior part of the gut, expression becomes intense in the endostyle (the right wall of the pharynx), which is the presumed homologue of the vertebrate thyroid gland. More posteriorly, there is transitory expression in the midgut and hindgut. In sum, the present results help to support homologies (1) between the amphioxus endostyle and the vertebrate thyroid gland and (2) between the amphioxus cerebral vesicle and the vertebrate diencephalic forebrain.

Holland, ND, Zhang S-C, Clark M, Panopoulou GD, Lehrach H, Holland LZ.  1997.  Sequence and developmental expression of AmphiTob, an amphioxus homolog of vertebrate Tob in the PC3/BTG/Tob family of tumor suppressor genes. Developmental Dynamics. 210:11-18.
Holland, LZ, Kene M, Williams NA, Holland ND.  1997.  Sequence and embryonic expression of the amphioxus engrailed gene (AmphiEn): The metameric pattern of transcription resembles that of its segment-polarity homolog in Drosophila. Development. 124:1723-1732. AbstractWebsite

Vertebrate segmentation has been proposed as an evolutionary inheritance either from some metameric protostome or from a more closely related deuterostome, To address this question, we studied the developmental expression of AmphiEn, the engrailed gene of amphioxus, the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates, In neurula embryos of amphioxus, AmphiEn is expressed along the anteroposterior axis as metameric stripes, each located in the posterior part of a nascent or newly formed segment, This pattern resembles the expression stripes of the segment-polarity gene engrailed, which has a key role in establishing and maintaining the metameres in embryos of Drosophila and other metameric protostomes, Later, amphioxus embryos express AmphiEn in non-metameric patterns - transiently in the embryonic ectoderm and dorsal nerve cord. Nerve cord expression occurs in a few cells approximately midway along the rostrocaudal axis and also in a conspicuous group of anterior cells in the cerebral vesicle at a level previously identified as corresponding to the vertebrate diencephalon. Compared to vertebrate engrailed expression at the midbrain/hindbrain boundary, AmphiEn expression in the cerebral vesicle is relatively late, Thus, it is uncertain whether the cerebral vesicle expression marks the rostral end of the amphioxus hindbrain; if it does, then amphioxus may have little or no homolog of the vertebrate midbrain, The segmental expression of AmphiEn in forming somites suggests that the functions of engrailed homologs in establishing and maintaining a metameric body plan may have arisen only once during animal evolution, If so, the protostomes and deuterostomes probably shared a common segmented ancestor.

Holland, LZ, Pace DA, Blink ML, Kene M, Holland ND.  1995.  Sequence and Expression of Amphioxus Alkali Myosin Light-Chain (Amphimlc-Alk) Throughout Development - Implications for Vertebrate Myogenesis. Developmental Biology. 171:665-676.   10.1006/dbio.1995.1313   AbstractWebsite

The lower chordate amphioxus, widely considered the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates, is a key organism for understanding the relationship between gene duplications and evolution of the complex vertebrate body plan. In tetrapod vertebrates, the alkali myosin light chain genes (MLC-alk), which code for proteins associated with the globular head of the myosin heavy chain, constitute a large family with stage-, tissue-, and fiber-type-specific expression of different isoforms thought to have arisen by duplication of a single ancestral gene. In protostome invertebrates, e.g., arthropods, molluscs, and nematodes, only one MLC-alk gene has been found, but the number of such genes in deuterostome invertebrates and lower vertebrates is unknown. The present report, describing the sequence and expression throughout development of the amphioxus gene for alkali myosin light chain (AmphiMLC-alk), thus fills a major gap in understanding the relation between gene duplication and increasing diversity of muscle-cell types. A full-length clone (1 kb) of AmphiMLC-alk was isolated from a larval amphioxus cDNA Library. It coded for a 149-amino-acid protein most closely related to the vertebrate embryonic form of MLC-alk. Southern blot analysis revealed only one copy of AmphiMLC-alk and suggested that it is the only MLC-alk gene in amphioxus. Northern blot analysis indicated that this gene produces only one transcript, which is expressed at all stages of development and in adults. In situ hybridizations showed expression initially in the myotomes of somites 2-5 of neurula embryos and soon thereafter in the myotomes of somite 1 and of newly forming somites progressively added posteriorly. Myotomal expression continues throughout larval development and into the adult stage as the myotomal cells differentiate into striated, mononucleate muscle cells-unlike vertebrate striated muscle cells, those of amphioxus never become multinucleate. In late larvae and adults myotomal expression of AmphiMLC-alk is localized along the medial edge of the myotome and at the ends of the cells. This is the first demonstration of intracellular localization of MLC transcripts in muscle cells of any animal. Expression of AmphiMLC-alk was also detected in smooth muscles as well as in striated muscles not derived from the myotome. These expression data are consistent with the Southern blot analysis in suggesting that there is only one MLC-alk gene in amphioxus. Thus, duplication of an ancestral vertebrate MLC-alk gene probably occurred after the vertebrate and amphioxus lineages split. We conclude that development of a segmented axial musculature preceded the evolution of multiple MLC-alk isoforms, which evidently arose about the time of multinucleation. Since myogenesis in amphioxus is similar to but far simpler than myogenesis in vertebrates at both the structural and gene levels, an understanding of myogenesis in amphioxus can give insights into both the evolutionary history and the detailed mechanisms of vertebrate myogenesis. (C) 1995 Academic Press, Inc.

Holland, ND, Holland LZ.  1993.  Serotonin-Containing Cells in the Nervous-System and Other Tissues During Ontogeny of a Lancelet, Branchiostoma-Floridae. Acta Zoologica. 74:195-204. AbstractWebsite

Serotonin-containing cells are described by immunohistochemistry throughout lancelet ontogeny. Such cells are first detected in the 2-day larva: these are (1) enterochromaffin cells in the inner epithelium of the gut and (2) anterior serotonergic neurons at the rostral end of the nerve cord. In the 6-day larva, relatively low levels of serotonin appear in ventro-lateral perikarya and cell processes of intraspinal serotonergic neurons scattered along the nerve cord. In the 18-day (early metamorphic) larva, antero-lateral serotonergic neurons are detected near the rostral end of the nerve cord as two small, bilateral clusters of perikarya with axons that descend the nerve cord; at later developmental stages, these axons extend almost to the posterior end of the body. In the 21-day (mid-metamorphic) larva, serotonin can no longer be detected in the anterior serotonergic neurons, but serotonin-containing cells are found subjacent to the inner epithelium of the digestive caecum and in the peribranchial epithelium covering the primary gill bars. In the discussion, we suggest that the anterior serotonergic neurons may play a role in larval photoreception and that the antero-lateral serotonergic neurons may be homologous to vertebrate hindbrain neurons with axons descending the spinal cord to modulate undulation (if this homology is valid, the anterior limit of the lancelet hindbrain would be roughly 100 mum behind the rostral tip of the nerve cord).