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.
Diverse sampling of organisms across the five ma- jor classes in the phylum Echinodermata is beginning to reveal much about the structure and function of gene regulatory net- works (GRNs) in development and evolution. Sea urchins are the most studied clade within this phylum, and recent work suggests there has been dramatic rewiring at the top of the skeletogenic GRN along the lineage leading to extant mem- bers of the euechinoid sea urchins. Such rewiring likely ac- counts for some of the observed developmental differences between the two major subclasses of sea urchins—cidaroids and euechinoids.
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.
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