Citation: Thompson, J.R., Erkenbrack, E. M. Hinman, V.F., McCauley, B., Petsios, E., and Bottjer, D.J. (2017). Paleogenomics of echinoids reveals an ancient origin for the double-negative specification of micromeres in sea urchins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U S A, in press.
Divergence of ectodermal and mesodermal gene regulatory network linkages in early development of sea urchins
Developmental gene regulatory networks (GRNs) are assemblages of gene regulatory interactions that direct ontogeny of animal body plans. Studies of GRNs operating in the early development of euechinoid sea urchins have revealed that little appreciable change has occurred since their divergence ∼90 million years ago (mya). These observations suggest that strong conservation of GRN architecture was maintained in early development of the sea urchin lineage. Testing whether this holds for all sea urchins necessitates comparative analyses of echinoid taxa that diverged deeper in geological time. Recent studies highlighted extensive divergence of skeletogenic mesoderm specification in the sister clade of euechinoids, the cidaroids, suggesting that comparative analyses of cidaroid GRN architecture may confer a greater understanding of the evolutionary dynamics of developmental GRNs. Here I report spatiotemporal patterning of 55 regulatory genes and perturbation analyses of key regulatory genes involved in euechinoid oral–aboral patterning of nonskeletogenic mesodermal and ectodermal domains in early development of the cidaroid Eucidaris tribuloides. These results indicate that developmental GRNs directing mesodermal and ectodermal specification have undergone marked alterations since the divergence of cidaroids and euechinoids. Notably, statistical and clustering analyses of echinoid temporal gene expression datasets indicate that regulation of mesodermal genes has diverged more markedly than regulation of ectodermal genes. Although research on indirect-developing euechinoid sea urchins suggests strong conservation of GRN circuitry during early embryogenesis, this study indicates that since the divergence of cidaroids and euechinoids, developmental GRNs have undergone significant, cell type–biased alterations.
Notch-mediated lateral inhibition is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism patterning the ectoderm of echinoids
Notch signaling is a crucial cog in early development of euechinoid sea urchins, specifying both non-skeletogenic mesodermal lineages and serotonergic neurons in the apical neuroectoderm. Here, the spatial distributions and function of delta, gcm, and hesc, three genes critical to these processes in euechinoids, are examined in the distantly related cidaroid sea urchin Eucidaris tribuloides. Spatial distribution and experimental perturbation of delta and hesc suggest that the function of Notch signaling in ectodermal patterning in early development of E. tribuloides is consistent with canonical lateral inhibition. Delta transcripts were observed in the archenteron, apical ectoderm, and lateral ectoderm in gastrulating embryos of E. tribuloides. Perturbation of Notch signaling by either delta morpholino or treatment of DAPT downregulated hesc and upregulated delta and gcm, resulting in ectopic expression of delta and gcm. Similarly, hesc perturbation mirrored the effects of delta perturbation. Interestingly, perturbation of delta or hesc resulted in more cells expressing gcm and supernumerary pigment cells, suggesting that pigment cell proliferation is regulated by Notch in E. tribuloides. These results are consistent with an evolutionary scenario whereby, in the echinoid ancestor, Notch signaling was deployed in the ectoderm to specify neurogenic progenitors and controlled pigment cell proliferation in the dorsal ectoderm.