The members of the Snail family of zinc-finger transcription factors have been implicated in the formation of distinct tissues within the developing vertebrate and invertebrate embryo. Two members of this family have been described in higher vertebrates, Snail (Sna) and Slug (Slu), where they have been implicated in the formation of tissues such as the mesoderm and the neural crest. We have isolated the mouse homologue of the Slu gene enabling us to analyse and compare the amino acid sequences and the patterns of expression of both Sna and Slu in the chick and mouse. We have detected features in the sequences that allow the unequivocal ascription of any family member to the Sna or Slu subfamilies and we have observed that, during early stages of development, many of the sites of Slu and Sna expression in the mouse and chick embryo are swapped. Later in development, the sites of expression of Slu and Sna are conserved between these two species. These data, together with the data available in other species, lead us to propose that Slu and Sna arose as a duplication of an ancestor gene and that an extra duplication in the fish lineage has given rise to two Sna genes. Furthermore, several early sites of Slu and Sna expression have been swapped in the avian lineage. Our analysis of the Snail family may also shed new light on the origin of the neural crest.

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