Representatives of the Insecta and the Malacostraca (higher crustaceans) have highly derived body plans subdivided into several tagma, groups of segments united by a common function and/or morphology. The tagmatization of segments in the trunk, the part of the body between head and telson, in both lineages is thought to have evolved independently from ancestors with a distinct head but a homonomous, undifferentiated trunk. In the branchiopod crustacean, Artemia franciscana, the trunk Hox genes are expressed in broad overlapping domains suggesting a conserved ancestral state (Averof, M. and Akam, M. (1995) Nature 376, 420–423). In comparison, in insects, the Antennapedia-class genes of the homeotic clusters are more regionally deployed into distinct domains where they serve to control the morphology of the different trunk segments. Thus an originally Artemia-like pattern of homeotic gene expression has apparently been modified in the insect lineage associated with and perhaps facilitating the observed pattern of tagmatization. Since insects are the only arthropods with a derived trunk tagmosis tested to date, we examined the expression patterns of the Hox genes Antp, Ubx and abd-A in the malacostracan crustacean Porcellio scaber (Oniscidae, Isopoda). We found that, unlike the pattern seen in Artemia, these genes are expressed in well-defined discrete domains coinciding with tagmatic boundaries which are distinct from those of the insects. Our observations suggest that, during the independent tagmatization in insects and malacostracan crustaceans, the homologous ‘trunk’ genes evolved to perform different developmental functions. We also propose that, in each lineage, the changes in Hox gene expression pattern may have been important in trunk tagmatization.

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