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Dev Growth Differ. 2001 Apr;43(2):185-94.

Early expressed genes showing a dichotomous developing pattern in the lancelet embryo.

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Department of Oral Anatomy 1, Kagoshima University Dental School, 8-35-1 Sakuragaoka, Kagoshima 890-8544, Japan.


Lancelets (amphioxus), although showing the most similar anatomical features to vertebrates, never develop a vertebrate-like head but rather several structures specific to this animal. The lancelet anatomical specificity seems to be traceable to early developmental stages, such as the vertebrate dorsal and anterior-posterior determinations. The BMP and Wnt proteins play important roles in establishing the early basis of the dorsal structures and the head in vertebrates. The early behavior of BMP and Wnt may be also related to the specific body structures of lancelets. The expression patterns of a dpp-related gene, Bbbmp2/4, and two wnt-related genes, Bbwnt7 and Bbwnt8, have been studied in comparison with those of brachyury and Hnf-3beta class genes. The temporal expression patterns of these genes are similar to those of vertebrates; Bbbmp2/4 and Bbwnt8 are first expressed in the invaginating primitive gut and the equatorial region, respectively, at the initial gastrula stage. However, spatial expression pattern of Bbbmp2/4 differs significantly from the vertebrate cognates. It is expressed in the mid-dorsal inner layer of gastrulae and widely in the anterior region, in which vertebrates block BMP signaling. The present study suggests that the lancelet embryo may have two distinct developmental domains from the gastrula stage, the domains of which coincide later with the lateral diverticular and the somitocoelomic regions. The embryonic origin of the anterior-specific structures in lancelets corresponds to the anterior domain where Bbbmp2/4 is continuously expressed.

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