The epithelium of the pharynx contributes to the formation of gills in hemichordates, urochordates, cephalochordates and primitive vertebrates, and is therefore a key structure for understanding developmental mechanisms underlying the establishment of chordate body plans. Pax1- and Pax9-related genes encode transcription factors which are expressed in the pharyngeal region of cephalochordates as well as in the vertebrate pharyngeal pouch epithelium that forms the thymus and parathyroid glands. To explore the molecular basis underlying the occurrence and modifications of the pharyngeal epithelium during evolution, we isolated cDNA clones for Pax1- and Pax9-related genes of urochordates (HrPax1/9 of Halocynthia roretzi and CiPax1/9 of Ciona intestinalis) and a hemichordate (PfPax1/9 of Ptychodera flava) from gill cDNA libraries. Each gene is present as a single copy per haploid genome. All of the cDNAs encode typical paired domains and octapeptides but not a homeodomain, as is also true of other Pax1- and Pax9-related genes. Molecular phylogenetic analysis based on comparison of the paired domain amino-acid sequences suggests that HrPax1/9, CiPax1/9 and PfPax1/9 belong to the Pax1/9 subfamily, and that they are descendants of a single precursor of Pax1/Pax9. Screening of HrPax1/9 cDNA clones yielded six different types of transcripts which were generated by alternative splicing. Northern blot, RT-PCR/Southern and in situ hybridization analyses revealed that HrPax1/9, CiPax1/9 and PfPax1/9 are not expressed during early embryogenesis but are expressed in the epithelia of differentiating gills, suggesting that these genes encode gill-specific transcription factors. The Pax1/9 genes therefore might provide the first developmental genetic corroboration of hypotheses of organ-level homology that unifies hemichordates, urochordates and cephalochordates.
Developmental expression of Pax1/9 genes in urochordate and hemichordate gills: insight into function and evolution of the pharyngeal epithelium
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M. Ogasawara, H. Wada, H. Peters, N. Satoh; Developmental expression of Pax1/9 genes in urochordate and hemichordate gills: insight into function and evolution of the pharyngeal epithelium. Development 1 June 1999; 126 (11): 2539–2550. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.126.11.2539
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