Homologues of the T-box gene Brachyury play important roles in mesoderm differentiation and other aspects of early development in all bilaterians. In the diploblast Hydra, the Brachyuryhomologue HyBra1 acts early in the formation of the hypostome, the location of the organiser in adult Hydra. We now report the isolation and characterisation of a second Brachyury gene, HyBra2. Sequence analysis suggests that HyBra1 and HyBra2 are paralogues, resulting from an ancient lineage-specific gene duplication. We show that both paralogues acquired novel functions, both at the level of their cis-regulation as well as through significant divergence of the coding sequence. Both genes are expressed in the hypostome, but HyBra1 is predominantly endodermal, whereas HyBra2 transcripts are found primarily in the ectoderm. During bud formation, both genes are activated before any sign of evagination, suggesting an early role in head formation. During regeneration, HyBra1 is an immediate-early response gene and is insensitive to protein synthesis inhibition, whereas the onset of expression of HyBra2 is delayed and requires protein synthesis. The functional consequence of HyBra1/2 protein divergence on cell fate decisions was tested in Xenopus. HyBra1 induces mesoderm, like vertebrate Brachyury proteins. By contrast, HyBra2 shows a strong cement-gland and neural-inducing activity. Domain-swapping experiments show that the C-terminal domain of HyBra2 is responsible for this specific phenotype. Our data support the concept of sub- and neofunctionalisation upon gene duplication and show that divergence of cis-regulation and coding sequence in paralogues can lead to dramatic changes in structure and function.
Orthologues of Brachyury, a subfamily of T-box transcription factors, specify distinct cell types in different metazoan phyla, suggesting that the function of these genes has changed through the course of evolution. To investigate this evolutionary process, we have compared the activities of Brachyury orthologues from all major phyla in a single cellular context, the pluripotent Xenopus laevis animal cap. In this assay, an ancestral function is revealed: most orthologues, including the Hydra protein, mimic the action of endogenous Xenopus Brachyury, in that they induce mesoderm but not endoderm. Orthologues from Drosophila and ascidians, however, display an additional derived property, represented in our assay by the induction of endoderm. Misexpression of chimeric versions of Brachyury reveals that the C-terminal half of the protein is important for the strength of the induced response but not for its specificity. In contrast, amino acids located within the T-domain and in a short N-terminal peptide are involved in restricting the activity of Brachyury proteins to induction of mesoderm and not endoderm. Possession of this N-terminal motif is correlated with early circumblastoporal expression of Brachyury orthologues. We propose that restriction of Brachyury activity by this motif plays a conserved role in the control of Bilaterian gastrulation.
Changes in cis-regulatory sequences are proposed to underlie much of morphological evolution. Yet, little is known about how such modifications translate into phenotypic differences. To address this problem, we focus on the dorsocentral bristles of Drosophilidae. In Drosophila melanogaster, development of these bristles depends on a cis-regulatory element, the dorsocentral enhancer, to activate scute in a cluster of cells from which two bristles on the posterior scutum arise. A few species however, such as D. quadrilineata, bear anterior dorsocentral bristles as well as posterior ones, a derived feature. This correlates with an anterior expansion of the scute expression domain. Here, we show that the D. quadrilineata enhancer has evolved, and is now active in more anterior regions. When used to rescue scute expression in transgenic D. melanogaster, the D. quadrilineata enhancer is able to induce anterior bristles. Importantly, these properties are not displayed by homologous enhancers from control species bearing only two posterior bristles. We also provide evidence that upstream regulation of the enhancer, by the GATA transcription factor Pannier, has been evolutionarily conserved. This work illustrates how, in the context of a conserved trans-regulatory landscape, evolutionary tinkering of pre-existing enhancers can modify gene expression patterns and contribute to morphological diversification.
The central nervous system (CNS) develops from the neural tube, a hollow structure filled with embryonic cerebrospinal fluid (eCSF) and surrounded by neuroepithelial cells. Several lines of evidence suggest that the eCSF contains diffusible factors regulating the survival, proliferation, and differentiation of the neuroepithelium, although these factors are only beginning to be uncovered. One possible candidate as eCSF morphogenetic molecule is SCO-spondin, a large glycoprotein whose secretion by the diencephalic roof plate starts at early developmental stages. In vitro, SCO-spondin promotes neuronal survival and differentiation, but its in vivo function still remains to be elucidated. Here we performed in vivo loss of function experiments for SCO-spondin during early brain development by injecting and electroporating a specific shRNA expression vector into the neural tube of chick embryos. We show that SCO-spondin knock down induces an increase in neuroepithelial cells proliferation concomitantly with a decrease in cellular differentiation toward neuronal lineages, leading to hyperplasia in both the diencephalon and the mesencephalon. In addition, SCO-spondin is required for the correct morphogenesis of the posterior commissure and pineal gland. Because SCO-spondin is secreted by the diencephalon, we sought to corroborate the long-range function of this protein in vitro by performing gain and loss of function experiments on mesencephalic explants. We find that culture medium enriched in SCO-spondin causes an increased neurodifferentiation of explanted mesencephalic region. Conversely, inhibitory antibodies against SCO-spondin cause a reduction in neurodifferentiation and an increase of mitosis when such explants are cultured in eCSF. Our results suggest that SCO-spondin is a crucial eCSF diffusible factor regulating the balance between proliferation and differentiation of the brain neuroepithelial cells.
Understanding the evolutionary emergence and subsequent diversification of the vertebrate skeleton requires a comprehensive view of the diverse skeletal cell types found in distinct developmental contexts, tissues, and species. To date, our knowledge of the molecular nature of the shark calcified extracellular matrix, and its relationships with osteichthyan skeletal tissues, remain scarce. Here, based on specific combinations of expression patterns of the Col1a1, Col1a2, and Col2a1 fibrillar collagen genes, we compare the molecular footprint of endoskeletal elements from the chondrichthyan Scyliorhinus canicula and the tetrapod Xenopus tropicalis. We find that, depending on the anatomical location, Scyliorhinus skeletal calcification is associated to cell types expressing different subsets of fibrillar collagen genes, such as high levels of Col1a1 and Col1a2 in the neural arches, high levels of Col2a1 in the tesserae, or associated to a drastic Col2a1 downregulation in the centrum. We detect low Col2a1 levels in Xenopus osteoblasts, thereby revealing that the osteoblastic expression of this gene was significantly reduced in the tetrapod lineage. Finally, we uncover a striking parallel, from a molecular and histological perspective, between the vertebral cartilage calcification of both species and discuss the evolutionary origin of endochondral ossification.
Although many regulators of skeletogenesis have been functionally characterized, one current challenge is to integrate this information into regulatory networks. Here, we discuss how the canonical Wnt and Smad-dependent BMP pathways interact together and play antagonistic or cooperative roles at different steps of osteogenesis, in the context of the developing vertebrate embryo. Early on, BMP signaling specifies multipotent mesenchymal cells into osteochondroprogenitors. In turn, the function of Wnt signaling is to drive these osteochondroprogenitors towards an osteoblastic fate. Subsequently, both pathways promote osteoblast differentiation, albeit with notable mechanistic differences. In osteocytes, the ultimate stage of osteogenic differentiation, the Wnt and BMP pathways exert opposite effects on the control of bone resorption by osteoclasts. We describe how the dynamic molecular wiring of the canonical Wnt and Smad-dependent BMP signaling into the skeletal cell genetic programme is critical for the generation of bone-specific cell types during development.
The vertebrates share the ability to produce a skeleton made of mineralized extracellular matrix. However, our understanding of the molecular changes that accompanied their emergence remains scarce. Here, we describe the evolutionary history of the SPARC (secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine) family, because its vertebrate orthologues are expressed in cartilage, bones and teeth where they have been proposed to bind calcium and act as extracellular collagen chaperones, and because further duplications of specific SPARC members produced the small calcium-binding phosphoproteins (SCPP) family that is crucial for skeletal mineralization to occur. Both phylogeny and synteny conservation analyses reveal that, in the eumetazoan ancestor, a unique ancestral gene duplicated to give rise to SPARC and SPARCB described here for the first time. Independent losses have eliminated one of the two paralogues in cnidarians, protostomes and tetrapods. Hence, only non-tetrapod deuterostomes have conserved both genes. Remarkably, SPARC and SPARCB paralogues are still linked in the amphioxus genome. To shed light on the evolution of the SPARC family members in chordates, we performed a comprehensive analysis of their embryonic expression patterns in amphioxus, tunicates, teleosts, amphibians and mammals. Our results show that in the chordate lineage SPARC and SPARCB family members were recurrently recruited in a variety of unrelated tissues expressing collagen genes. We propose that one of the earliest steps of skeletal evolution involved the co-expression of SPARC paralogues with collagenous proteins.
BackgroundThe molecular bases explaining the diversity of dental tissue mineralization across gnathostomes are still poorly understood. Odontodes, such as teeth and body denticles, are serial structures that develop through deployment of a gene regulatory network shared between all gnathostomes. Dentin, the inner odontode mineralized tissue, is produced by odontoblasts and appears well-conserved through evolution. In contrast, the odontode hypermineralized external layer (enamel or enameloid) produced by ameloblasts of epithelial origin, shows extensive structural variations. As EMP (Enamel Matrix Protein) genes are as yet only found in osteichthyans where they play a major role in the mineralization of teeth and others skeletal organs, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms leading to the mineralized odontode matrices in chondrichthyans remains virtually unknown.ResultsWe undertook a phylogenetic analysis of the SPARC/SPARC-L gene family, from which the EMPs are supposed to have arisen, and examined the expression patterns of its members and of major fibrillar collagens in the spotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula, the thornback ray Raja clavata, and the clawed frog Xenopus tropicalis. Our phylogenetic analyses reveal that the single chondrichthyan SPARC-L gene is co-orthologous to the osteichthyan SPARC-L1 and SPARC-L2 paralogues. In all three species, odontoblasts co-express SPARC and collagens. In contrast, ameloblasts do not strongly express collagen genes but exhibit strikingly similar SPARC-L and EMP expression patterns at their maturation stage, in the examined chondrichthyan and osteichthyan species, respectively.ConclusionsA well-conserved odontoblastic collagen/SPARC module across gnathostomes further confirms dentin homology. Members of the SPARC-L clade evolved faster than their SPARC paralogues, both in terms of protein sequence and gene duplication. We uncover an osteichthyan-specific duplication that produced SPARC-L1 (subsequently lost in pipidae frogs) and SPARC-L2 (independently lost in teleosts and tetrapods).Our results suggest the ameloblastic expression of the single chondrichthyan SPARC-L gene at the maturation stage reflects the ancestral gnathostome situation, and provide new evidence in favor of the homology of enamel and enameloids in all gnathostomes.Electronic supplementary materialThe online version of this article (10.1186/s12862-018-1241-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
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