Citation: Erkenbrack E. M. (2017). Notch-mediated lateral inhibition is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism patterning the ectoderm of echinoids. Development Genes and Evolution, Online First.
Animals consist of a wide variety of cells that serve different functions depending on their location in the body. Cells with similar functions, or cell types, in different animal species are related both by an evolutionary line of descentÐsimilar to the relatedness of species themselvesÐand by a developmental line of descent in the embryo. Networks of interacting genes, or gene regulatory networks, control gene expression in the cell, thereby specifying cell type identity. Understanding how new cell types arise by changing gene regulatory networks is critical both to comprehending fundamental aspects of human biology and to manipulating cell types in the laboratory. We approached this question by studying endometrial stromal fibroblast (ESF) cells from the uterus of humans and opossums, two distantly related mammals. We showed that the distantly related cell type in opossum expresses a similar set of regulatory genes as the human cell, but in response to pregnancy-related signals, the opossum cells induce a stress response. In the human cells, these signals induce differentiation into decidual cells, a specialized cell type present in humans and closely related mammals. These results suggest that a gene regulatory network that modulated an ancestral, pregnancy-related stress response was hijacked and repurposed to function in differentiation and specification of the decidual cell type.
Cell type phylogenetics informs the evolutionary origin of echinoderm larval skeletogenic cell identity
To inform the evolution of the echinoderm larval skeletogenic cell, we have presented a framework for cell-type phylogenetic analysis that integrates spatial gene expression data with phylogenetic comparative methods to reconstruct ancestral gene expression. The genes we chose to include in our analyses have been studied in numerous echinoderm taxa and occupy crucial nodes of a well characterized gene regulatory network11,35. As the number of model and nonmodel organisms increases in evolutionary developmental biology, comparative analyses of spatial data will depend more on ancestral state reconstructions than on direct comparisons with an outgroup. However, it should be noted that such analyses are limited by several factors, including knowledge of a detailed GRN, invoking interspecies comparisons of development, and obtaining reliable divergence times and phylogenetic trees. The present study is not exempt from these limitations. Indeed, we chose to analyze five genes with broad phylogenetic sampling over twelve taxa. To support our findings, we ran pruned sensitivity analyses and concluded that decreasing the number of taxa reduced our ability to resolve ancestral states with confidence at certain nodes, especially the Asterozoan and Eleutherozoan MRCAs (Supplementary Fig. 12). Therefore, broad phylogenetic sampling is vitally important to resolve ancestral gene expression patterns. One could argue that increasing the number of genes in the analysis would help resolve the question of interest. However, we suggest that whether or not this is true will depend on the case at hand. For instance, in this study we analyzed genes from a GRN where the functional importance of many regulatory genes is well-known. In most cases, a well characterized GRN will not be available, and it will be equally important to possess a broad sampling of taxa across a phylogeny. For instance, as gene expression in early development becomes available in more asterozoans, which are under-sampled with respect to echinozoans in our analyses, we will gain greater confidence in our inferences at the asterozoan and eleutherozoan MRCAs. Indeed, we also see potential for the approach utilized herein to analyze ancestral states of GRN regulatory architecture. For example, the isolation and characterization of homologous cis-regulatory modules, from ATAC-seq, ChIP-seq, and other omics-level endeavors in phylogenetically distant organisms, could be then incorporated with the method presented here to determine which modules are lineage or cell-type specific.
© 2017 Eric M Erkenbrack and SpringerNature. All rights reserved.