Citation: Erkenbrack, E. M. (2017). Divergence of ectodermal and mesodermal gene regulatory network linkages in early development of sea urchins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(46), E7202-E7211.
Mechanistic understanding of evolutionary divergence in animal body plans devolves from analysis of those developmental processes that, in forms descendant from a common ancestor, are responsible for their morphological differences. The last common ancestor of the two extant subclasses of sea urchins, i.e., euechinoids and cidaroids, existed well before the Permian/Triassic extinction (252 mya). Subsequent evolutionary divergence of these clades offers in principle a rare opportunity to solve the developmental regulatory events underlying a defined evolutionary divergence process.
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.
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