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Dev Genes Evol. 2001 Jun;211(6):269-80.

Cross-phylum regulatory potential of the ascidian Otx gene in brain development in Drosophila melanogaster.

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  • 1Institute of Biological Sciences and Tsukuba Advanced Research Alliances, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba 305-8572, Japan.


The origin of molecular mechanisms of cephalic development is an intriguing question in evolutionary and developmental biology. Ascidians, positioned near the origin of the phylum Chordata, share a conserved set of anteroposterior patterning genes with vertebrates. Here we report the cross-phylum regulatory potential of the ascidian Otx gene in the development of the Drosophila brain and the head vertex structures. The ascidian Otx gene rescued the embryonic brain defect caused by a null mutation of the Drosophila orthodenticle (otd) gene and enhanced rostral brain development while it suppressed trunk nerve cord formation. Furthermore, the ascidian Otx gene restored the head vertex defects caused by a viable otd mutation, ocelliless, via specific activation and repression of downstream regulatory genes. These cross-phylum regulatory potentials of the ascidian Otx gene are equivalent to the activities of the Drosophila and human otd/Otx genes in these developmental processes. These results support the notion that basal chordates such as ascidians have the same molecular patterning mechanism for the anterior structures found in higher chordates, and suggest a common genetic program of cephalic development in invertebrate, protochordate and vertebrate.

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