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J Anat. 2005 Nov;207(5):489-99.

Developmental studies of the lamprey and hierarchical evolutionary steps towards the acquisition of the jaw.

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  • 1Laboratory for Evolutionary Morphology, Center for Developmental Biology, RIKEN, Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. saizo@cdb.riken.jp


The evolution of animal morphology can be understood as a series of changes in developmental programs. Among vertebrates, some developmental stages are conserved across species, representing particular developmental constraints. One of the most conserved stages is the vertebrate pharyngula, in which similar embryonic morphology is observed and the Hox code is clearly expressed. The oral developmental program also appears to be constrained to some extent, as both its morphology and the the Hox-code-default state of the oropharyngeal region are well conserved between the lamprey and gnathostome embryos. These features do not by themselves explain the evolution of jaws, but should be regarded as a prerequisite for evolutionary diversification of the mandibular arch. By comparing the pharyngula morphology of the lamprey and gnathostomes, it has become clear that the oral pattern is not entirely identical; in particular, the positional differentiation of the rostral ectomesenchyme is shifted between these animals. Therefore, the jaw seems to have arisen as an evolutionary novelty by overriding ancestral constraints, a process in which morphological homologies are partially lost. This change involves the heterotopic shift of tissue interaction, which appears to have been preceded by the transition from monorhiny to diplorhiny, as well as separation of the hypophysis. When gene expression patterns are compared between the lamprey and gnathostomes, cell-autonomously functioning genes tend to be associated with identical cell types or equivalent anatomical domains, whereas growth-factor-encoding genes have changed their expression domains during evolution. Thus, the heterotopic evolution may be based on changes in the regulation of signalling-molecule-encoding genes.

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