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Book Chapter
Holland, LZ, Holland ND.  2001.  Amphioxus and the evolutionary origin of the vertebrate neural crest and midbrain/hindbrain boundary. Major events in early vertebrate evolution : palaeontology, phylogeny, genetics, and development. ( Ahlberg P, Ed.).:15-32., London ; New York: Taylor & Francis Abstract
Holland, LZ, Gorsky G, Fenaux R.  2003.  A diversity of sperm in appendicularians. Are appendicularians monophyletic? pp. 210-239. Response of Marine Ecosystems to Global Change: Ecological Impact of Appendicularians. ( Gorsky G, Youngbluth M, Deibel D, Eds.).: Landes Biosciences
Holland, ND, Holland LZ.  1993.  Embryos and larvae of invertebrate deuterostomes. Essential developmental biology : a practical approach. ( Stern CD, Holland PWH, Eds.).:21-32., Oxford ; New York: IRL Press at Oxford University Press Abstract
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
Journal Article
Holland, LZ, Short S.  2010.  Alternative Splicing in Development and Function of Chordate Endocrine Systems: A Focus on Pax Genes. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 50:22-34.   10.1093/icb/icq048   AbstractWebsite

Genome sequencing has facilitated an understanding of gene networks but has also shown that they are only a small part of the answer to the question of how genes translate into a functional organism. Much of the answer lies in epigenetics-heritable traits not directly encoded by the genome. One such phenomenon is alternative splicing, which affects over 75% of protein coding genes and greatly amplifies the number of proteins. Although it was postulated that alternative splicing and gene duplication are inversely proportional and, therefore, have similar effects on the size of the proteome, for ancient duplications such as occurred in the Pax family of transcription factors, that is not necessarily so. The importance of alternative splicing in development and physiology is only just coming to light. However, several techniques for studying isoform functions both in vitro and in vivo have been recently developed. As examples of what is known and what is yet to be discovered, this review focuses on the evolution and roles of the Pax family of transcription factors in development and on alternative splicing of endocrine genes and the factors that regulate them.

Panopoulou, GD, Clark MD, Holland LZ, Lehrach H, Holland ND.  1998.  AmphiBMP2/4, an amphioxus bone morphogenetic protein closely related to Drosophila decapentaplegic and vertebrate BMP2 and BMP4: Insights into evolution of dorsoventral axis specification. Developmental Dynamics. 213:130-139.   10.1002/(sici)1097-0177(199809)213:1<130::aid-aja13>;2-z   AbstractWebsite

Amphioxus AmphiBMP2/4 appears to be a single gene closely related to vertebrate BMP2 and BMP4. In amphioxus embryos, the expression patterns of AmphiBMP2/4 suggest patterning roles in the ectodermal dorsoventral axis (comparable to dorsoventral axis establishment in the ectoderm by Drosophila decapentaplegic and vertebrate BMP4). In addition AmphiBMP2/4 may be involved in somite evagination, tail bud growth, pharyngeal differentiation (resulting in club-shaped gland morphogenesis), hindgut regionalization, differentiation of olfactory epithelium, patterning of the anterior central nervous system, and establishment of the heart primordium, One difference between the developmental role of amphioxus AmphiBMP2/4 and vertebrate BMP4 is that the former does not appear to be involved in the initial establishment of the dorsoventral polarity of the mesoderm, Dev. Dyn. 1998;213:130-139. (C) 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Langlois, MC, Vanacker JM, Holland ND, Escriva H, Queva C, Laudet V, Holland LZ.  2000.  Amphicoup-TF, a nuclear orphan receptor of the lancelet Branchiostoma floridae, is implicated in retinoic acid signalling pathways. Development Genes and Evolution. 210:471-482.   10.1007/s004270000087   AbstractWebsite

In vertebrates, the orphan nuclear receptors of the COUP-TF group function as negative transcriptional regulators that inhibit the hormonal induction of target genes mediated by classical members of the nuclear hormone superfamily, such as the retinoic acid receptors (RARs) or the thyroid hormone receptors (TRs). To investigate the evolutionary conservation of the roles of COUP-TF receptors as negative regulators in the retinoid and thyroid hormone pathways, we have characterized AmphiCOUP-TF, the homologue of COUP-TFI and COUP-TFII, in the chordate amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae), the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSA) showed that AmphiCOUP-TF binds to a wide variety of response elements, as do its vertebrate homologues. Furthermore, AmphiCOUP-TF is a transcriptional repressor that strongly inhibits retinoic acid-mediated transactivation. In situ hybridizations revealed expression of AmphiCOUP-TF in the nerve cord of late larvae, in a region corresponding to hindbrain and probably anterior spinal cord. Although the amphioxus nerve cord appears unsegmented at the gross anatomical level, this pattern reflects segmentation at the cellular level with stripes of expressing cells occurring adjacent to the ends and the centers of each myotomal segment, which may include visceral motor neurons and somatic motor neurons respectively, among other cells. A comparison of the expression pattern of AmphiCOUP-TF with those of its vertebrate homologues, suggests that the roles of COUP-TF in patterning of the nerve cord evolved prior to the split between the amphioxus and vertebrate lineages. Furthermore, in vitro data also suggest that AmphiCOUP-TF acts as a negative regulator of signalling by other nuclear receptors such as RAR, TR or ER.

Yu, JK, Holland LZ, Jamrich M, Blitz IL, Holland ND.  2002.  AmphiFoxE4, an amphioxus winged helix/forkhead gene encoding a protein closely related to vertebrate thyroid transcription factor-2: expression during pharyngeal development. Evolution & Development. 4:9-15.   10.1046/j.1525-142x.2002.01057.x   AbstractWebsite

The full-length sequence and developmental expression of amphioxus AmphiFoxE4 are described. Transcripts of the gene are first detected in the pharyngeal endoderm, where the club-shaped gland is forming and subsequently in the definitive gland itself. AmphiFoxE4 is closely related to vertebrate genes encoding the thyroid-specific transcription factor-2 (TTF2), which plays an early developmental role in the morphogenesis of the thyroid gland and a later role in hormone-mediated control of thyroid function. In amphioxus, AmphiFoxE4 expression is not thyroid specific because the club-shaped gland, the only structure expressing the gene, is not homologous to the vertebrate thyroid; in-stead, the thyroid homologue of amphioxus is a specialized region of the pharyngeal endoderm called the endostyle. We propose that (a) the pharynx of an amphioxus-like ancestor of the vertebrates included a club-shaped gland that expressed FoxE4 as well as an endostyle that did not, and (b) the club-shaped gland soon disappeared in the vertebrate line of descent but (c) not before there was a homeogenetic transfer of FoxE4 expression from the club-shaped gland to the nearby endostyle. Such a transfer could have provided part of the genetic program enabling the endostyle to separate from the pharyngeal endoderm and migrate away as the rudiment of the thyroid gland.

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.

Holland, ND, Venkatesh TV, Holland LZ, Jacobs DK, Bodmer R.  2003.  AmphiNk2-tin, an amphioxus homeobox gene expressed in myocardial progenitors: insights into evolution of the vertebrate heart. Developmental Biology. 255:128-137.   10.1016/s0012-1606(02)00050-7   AbstractWebsite

We isolated a full-length cDNA clone of amphioxus AmphiNk2-tin, an NK2 gene similar in sequence to vertebrate NK2 cardiac genes, suggesting a potentially similar function to Drosophila tinman and to vertebrate NK2 cardiac genes during heart development. During the neurula stage of amphioxus, AmphiNk2-tin is expressed first within the foregut endoderm, then transiently in muscle precursor cells in the somites, and finally in some mesoderm cells of the visceral peritoneum arranged in an approximately midventral row running beneath the midgut and hindgut. The peritoneal cells that express ArnphiNk2-tin are evidently precursors of the myocardium of the heart, which subsequently becomes morphologically detectable ventral to the gut. The amphioxus heart is a rostrocaudally extended tube consisting entirely of myocardial cells (at both the larval and adult stages); there are no chambers, valves, endocardium, epicardium, or other differentiated features of vertebrate hearts. Phylogenetic analysis of the AmphiNk2-tin sequence documents its close relationship to vertebrate NK2 class cardiac genes, and ancillary evidence suggests a relationship with the Drosophila NK2 gene tinman. Apparently, an amphioxus-like heart, and the developmental program directing its development, was the foundation upon which the vertebrate heart evolved by progressive modular innovations at the genetic and morphological levels of organization. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.

Yu, J-K, Holland LZ.  2009.  Amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae) spawning and embryo collection . Cold Spring Harbor Protocols. 2009:pdb.prot5285 (9)   10.1101/pdb.prot5285  
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)

Schubert, M, Holland ND, Holland LZ.  1998.  Amphioxus AmphiDRAL encoding a LIM-domain protein: expression in the epidermis but not in the presumptive neuroectoderm. Mechanisms of Development. 76:203-205.   10.1016/s0925-4773(98)00120-8   AbstractWebsite

The sequence and developmental expression have been determined for amphioxus AmphiDRAL, which encodes a homolog of vertebrate DRAL (down-regulated in rhabdomyosarcoma LIM-protein). This is the first clear example of a DRAL homolog in an invertebrate. Detectable developmental expression begins at the gastrula stage in the epidermis, but not in the neuroectoderm; thus the early stages of AmphiDRAL expression indicate the neural/non-neural boundary. During subsequent embryonic stages, expression continues in the epidermis (but not in the developing central nervous system) until it fades during the later larval stages. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Holland, LZ, Holland ND, Gilland E.  2008.  Amphioxus and the evolution of head segmentation. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 48:630-646.   10.1093/icb/icn060   AbstractWebsite

Whether or not the vertebrate head is fundamentally segmented has been controversial for over 150 years. Beginning in the late 19th century, segmentalist theories proposed that the vertebrate head evolved from an amphioxus-like ancestor in which mesodermal somites extended the full length of the body with remnants of segmentation persisting as the mesodermal head cavities of sharks and lampreys. Antisegmentalists generally argued either that the vertebrate ancestors never had any mesodermal segmentation anteriorly or that they lost it before the origin of the vertebrates; in either case, the earliest vertebrates had an unsegmented head and the embryonic cranial mesoderm of vertebrates is at best pseudo-segmented, evolving independently of any pre-vertebrate segmental pattern. Recent morphologic studies have generally confirmed the accuracy of the major classical studies of head development in lampreys and sharks, yet disagree with their theoretical conclusions regarding the evolution of head segmentation. Studies of developmental genes in amphioxus and vertebrates, which have demonstrated conservation of the mechanisms of anteriorposterior patterning in the two groups, have shed new light on this controversy. Most pertinently, some homologs of genes expressed in the anterior amphioxus somites, which form as outpocketings of the gut, are also expressed in the walls of the head cavities of lampreys, which form similarly, and in their major derivatives (the velar muscles) as well as in the eye and jaw muscles of bony gnathostomes, which derive from unsegmented head mesoderm. These muscles share gene expression with the corresponding muscles of the shark, which derive from the walls of head cavities that form, not as outpocketings of the gut, but as secondary cavities within solid blocks of tissue. While molecular data that can be compared across all the relevant taxa remain limited, they are consistent with an evolutionary scenario in which the cranial paraxial mesoderm of the lamprey and shark evolved from the anterior somites of an amphioxus-like ancestor. Although, bony vertebrates have lost the mesodermal head segments present in the shark and lamprey, their remnants persist in the muscles of the eye and jaw.

Holland, LZ, Holland ND, Gilland E.  2008.  Amphioxus and the evolution of head segmentation. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 48:630-646.
Holland, ND, Holland LZ.  1999.  Amphioxus and the utility of molecular genetic data for hypothesizing body part homologies between distantly related animals. American Zoologist. 39:630-640. AbstractWebsite

Expression domains of developmental genes can indicate body part homologies between distantly related animals and give insights into interesting evolutionary questions. Two of the chief criteria for recognizing homologies are relative position with respect to surrounding body parts and special quality (for instance, a vertebrate testis, regardless of its location, is recognizable by its seminiferous cysts or tubules), When overall body plans of two animals are relatively similar, as for amphioxus versus vertebrates, body part homologies can be supported by developmental gene expression domains, which have properties of special quality and relative position. With expression patterns of AmphiNk2-1 and AmphiPax2/5/8, Re reexamine the proposed homology between the amphioxus endostyle and the vertebrate thyroid gland, and a previously good homology is made better. When body plans of animals are disparate, body part homologies supported by molecular genetic data are less convincing, because the criterion of relative position of gene expression domains becomes uncertain. Thus, when expression of amphioxus AmphiBMP2/4 is used to compare the dorsoventral axis between amphioxus and other animals, a comparison between amphioxus and vertebrates is more convincing than comparison between amphioxus and other invertebrates with disparate body plans. In spite of this difficulty, the use of developmental genetic evidence comparing animals with disparate body plans is currently putting the big picture of evolution into new perspective. For example, some molecular geneticists are non: suggesting that the last common ancestor of all bilaterian animals might have been more annelid-like than flatworm-like.

Putnam, NH, Butts T, Ferrier DEK, Furlong RF, Hellsten U, Kawashima T, Robinson-Rechavi M, Shoguchi E, Terry A, Yu JK, Benito-Gutierrez E, Dubchak I, Garcia-Fernandez J, Gibson-Brown JJ, Grigoriev IV, Horton AC, de Jong PJ, Jurka J, Kapitonov VV, Kohara Y, Kuroki Y, Lindquist E, Lucas S, Osoegawa K, Pennacchio LA, Salamov AA, Satou Y, Sauka-Spengler T, Schmutz J, Shin-I T, Toyoda A, Bronner-Fraser M, Fujiyama A, Holland LZ, Holland PWH, Satoh N, Rokhsar DS.  2008.  The amphioxus genome and the evolution of the chordate karyotype. Nature. 453:1064-U3.   10.1038/nature06967   AbstractWebsite

Lancelets ('amphioxus') are the modern survivors of an ancient chordate lineage, with a fossil record dating back to the Cambrian period. Here we describe the structure and gene content of the highly polymorphic similar to 520-megabase genome of the Florida lancelet Branchiostoma floridae, and analyse it in the context of chordate evolution. Whole-genome comparisons illuminate the murky relationships among the three chordate groups (tunicates, lancelets and vertebrates), and allow not only reconstruction of the gene complement of the last common chordate ancestor but also partial reconstruction of its genomic organization, as well as a description of two genome-wide duplications and subsequent reorganizations in the vertebrate lineage. These genome-scale events shaped the vertebrate genome and provided additional genetic variation for exploitation during vertebrate evolution.

Holland, LZ, Albalat R, Azumi K, Benito-Gutierrez E, Blow MJ, Bronner-Fraser M, Brunet F, Butts T, Candiani S, Dishaw LJ, Ferrier DEK, Garcia-Fernandez J, Gibson-Brown JJ, Gissi C, Godzik A, Hallbook F, Hirose D, Hosomichi K, Ikuta T, Inoko H, Kasahara M, Kasamatsu J, Kawashima T, Kimura A, Kobayashi M, Kozmik Z, Kubokawa K, Laudet V, Litman GW, McHardy AC, Meulemans D, Nonaka M, Olinski RP, Pancer Z, Pennacchio LA, Pestarino M, Rast JP, Rigoutsos I, Robinson-Rechavi M, Roch G, Saiga H, Sasakura Y, Satake M, Satou Y, Schubert M, Sherwood N, Shiina T, Takatori N, Tello J, Vopalensky P, Wada S, Xu AL, Ye YZ, Yoshida K, Yoshizaki F, Yu JK, Zhang Q, Zmasek CM, de Jong PJ, Osoegawa K, Putnam NH, Rokhsar DS, Satoh N, Holland PWH.  2008.  The amphioxus genome illuminates vertebrate origins and cephalochordate biology. Genome Research. 18:1100-1111.   10.1101/gr.073676.107   AbstractWebsite

Cephalochordates, urochordates, and vertebrates evolved from a common ancestor over 520 million years ago. To improve our understanding of chordate evolution and the origin of vertebrates, we intensively searched for particular genes, gene families, and conserved noncoding elements in the sequenced genome of the cephalochordate Branchiostoma floridae, commonly called amphioxus or lancelets. Special attention was given to homeobox genes, opsin genes, genes involved in neural crest development, nuclear receptor genes, genes encoding components of the endocrine and immune systems, and conserved cis-regulatory enhancers. The amphioxus genome contains a basic set of chordate genes involved in development and cell signaling, including a fifteenth Hox gene. This set includes many genes that were co-opted in vertebrates for new roles in neural crest development and adaptive immunity. However, where amphioxus has a single gene, vertebrates often have two, three, or four paralogs derived from two whole-genome duplication events. In addition, several transcriptional enhancers are conserved between amphioxus and vertebrates-a very wide phylogenetic distance. In contrast, urochordate genomes have lost many genes, including a diversity of homeobox families and genes involved in steroid hormone function. The amphioxus genome also exhibits derived features, including duplications of opsins and genes proposed to function in innate immunity and endocrine systems. Our results indicate that the amphioxus genome is elemental to an understanding of the biology and evolution of nonchordate deuterostomes, invertebrate chordates, and vertebrates.

Holland, LZ.  2012.  Amphioxus genomics. Briefings in Functional Genomics. 11:87-88.   10.1093/bfgp/els014   Website
Holland, PWH, Holland LZ, Williams NA, Holland ND.  1992.  An Amphioxus Homeobox Gene - Sequence Conservation, Spatial Expression During Development and Insights into Vertebrate Evolution. Development. 116:653-&. AbstractWebsite

The embryology of amphioxus has much in common with vertebrate embryology, reflecting a close phylogenetic relationship between the two groups. Amphioxus embryology is simpler in several key respects, however, including a lack of pronounced craniofacial morphogenesis. To gain an insight into the molecular changes that accompanied the evolution of vertebrate embryology, and into the relationship between the amphioxus and vertebrate body plans, we have undertaken the first molecular level investigation of amphioxus embryonic development. We report the cloning, complete DNA sequence determination, sequence analysis and expression analysis of an amphioxus homeobox gene, AmphiHox3, evolutionarily homologous to the third-most 3' paralogous group of mammalian Hox genes. Sequence comparison to a mammalian homologue, mouse Hox-2.7 (HoxB3), reveals several stretches of amino acid conservation within the deduced protein sequences. Whole mount in situ hybridization reveals localized expression of AmphiHox3 in the posterior mesoderm (but not in the somites), and region-specific expression in the dorsal nerve cord, of amphioxus neurulae, later embryos and larvae. The anterior limit to expression in the nerve cord is at the level of the four/five somite boundary at the neurula stage, and stabilises to just anterior to the first nerve cord pigment spot to form. Comparison to the anterior expression boundary of mouse Hox-2.7 (HoxB3) and related genes suggests that the vertebrate brain is homologous to an extensive region of the amphioxus nerve cord that contains the cerebral vesicle (a region at the extreme rostral tip) and extends posterior to somite four. This proposed homology implies that the vertebrate brain probably did not evolve solely from the cerebral vesicle of an amphioxus-like ancestor, nor did it arise entirely de novo anterior to the cerebral vesicle.

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.
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.

Yu, JK, Holland LZ, Holland ND.  2002.  An amphioxus nodal gene (AmphiNodal) with early symmetrical expression in the organizer and mesoderm and later asymmetrical expression associated with left-right axis formation. Evolution & Development. 4:418-425.   10.1046/j.1525-142X.2002.02030.x   AbstractWebsite

The full- length sequence and zygotic expression of an amphioxus nodal gene are described. Expression is first detected in the early gastrula just within the dorsal lip of the blastopore in a region of hypoblast that is probably comparable with the vertebrate Spemann's organizer. In the late gastrula and early neurula, expression remains bilaterally symmetrical, limited to paraxial mesoderm and immediately overlying regions of the neural plate. Later in the neurula stage, all neural expression disappears, and mesodermal expression disappears from the right side. All along the left side of the neurula, mesodermal expression spreads into the left side of the gut endoderm. Soon thereafter, all expression is down- regulated except near the anterior and posterior ends of the animal, where transcripts are still found in the mesoderm and endoderm on the left side. At this time, expression also begins in the ectoderm on the left side of the head, in the region where the mouth later forms. These results suggest that amphioxus and vertebrate nodal genes play evolutionarily conserved roles in establishing Spemann's organizer, patterning the mesoderm rostrocaudally and setting up the asymmetrical left - right axis of the body.

Holland, ND, Holland LZ, Kozmik Z.  1995.  An Amphioxus Pax Gene, Amphipax-1, Expressed in Embryonic Endoderm, but Not in Mesoderm - Implications for the Evolution of Class-I Paired Box Genes. Molecular Marine Biology and Biotechnology. 4:206-214. AbstractWebsite

Class I paired box genes are widely distributed through the animal phyla but only fruitfly Pox meso and vertebrate Pax-1 and Pax-9 have been adequately characterized. These vertebrate genes have several developmental functions, but their role in patterning the axial skeleton has received the most attention. Because axial skeletons appear after the origin of the vertebrates, special interest attaches to the possible functions of the precursors of Pax-1 and Pax-g in the invertebrate ancestor of the vertebrates. As a proxy for this ancestor, we studied amphioxus, which is widely thought to be the closest living invertebrate relative of the vertebrates. A cDNA library from developing amphioxus yielded an unequivocal class I paired box gene, AmphiPax-1, that is 2.5 kb long. The gene encodes a 337 amino acid protein that includes a paired domain in which the amino acids are 92% identical to the paired domain amino acids of mouse and human Pax-1 and Pax-g. In situ hybridization detects AmphiPax-1 expression only in the endoderm of the developing pharynx; within this tissue, expression becomes strikingly down-regulated in regions that will fuse with the overlying ectoderm to form gill slits. No transcripts of AmphiPax-1 ever become detectable in any mesodermal structures. We think it likely that, during animal evolution, class I paired box genes originally functioned in endoderm development and were only later co-opted for other roles in mesoderm development; however, other scenarios cannot be ruled out until homologues of these genes are studied in more invertebrate phyla and in the lower vertebrates.