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Ancient signals: peptides and the interpretation of positional information in ancestral metazoans.

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Zoological Institute, Christian-Albrechts-University, Olshausenstrasse 40, Kiel 24098, Germany.


Understanding the 'tool kit' that builds the most fundamental aspects of animal complexity requires data from the basal animals. Among the earliest diverging animal phyla are the Cnidaria which are the first in having a defined body plan including an axis, a nervous system and a tissue layer construction. Here I revise our understanding of patterning mechanism in cnidarians with special emphasis on the nature of positional signals in Hydra as perhaps the best studied model organism within this phylum. I show that (i) peptides play a major role as positional signals and in cell-cell communication; (ii) that intracellular signalling pathways in Hydra leading to activation of target genes are shared with all multicellular animals; (iii) that homeobox genes translate the positional signals; and (iv) that the signals are integrated by a complex genetic regulatory machinery that includes both novel cis regulatory elements as well as taxon specific target genes. On the basis of these results I present a model for the regulatory interactions required for axis formation in Hydra.

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