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Dev Biol. 2004 Apr 1;268(1):89-104.

Gene expression suggests decoupled dorsal and ventral segmentation in the millipede Glomeris marginata (Myriapoda: Diplopoda).

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Department for Evolutionary Genetics, Institute for Genetics, University of Cologne, D-50931 Köln, Germany.


Diplopods (millipedes) are known for their irregular body segmentation. Most importantly, the number of dorsal segmental cuticular plates (tergites) does not match the number of ventral structures (e.g., sternites). Controversial theories exist to explain the origin of this so-called diplosegmentation. We have studied the embryology of a representative diplopod, Glomeris marginata, and have analyzed the segmentation genes engrailed (en), hedgehog (hh), cubitus-interruptus (ci), and wingless (wg). We show that dorsal segments can be distinguished from ventral segments. They differ not only in number and developmental history, but also in gene expression patterns. engrailed, hedgehog, and cubitus-interruptus are expressed in both ventral and dorsal segments, but at different intrasegmental locations, whereas wingless is expressed only in the ventral segments, but not in the dorsal segments. Ventrally, the patterns are similar to what has been described from Drosophila and other arthropods, consistent with a conserved role of these genes in establishing parasegment boundaries. On the dorsal side, however, the gene expression patterns are different and inconsistent with a role in boundary formation between segments, but they suggest that these genes might function to establish the tergite borders. Our data suggest a profound and rather complete decoupling of dorsal and ventral segmentation leading to the dorsoventral discrepancies in the number of segmental elements. Based on gene expression, we propose a model that may resolve the hitherto controversial issue of the correlation between dorsal tergites and ventral leg pairs in basal diplopods (e.g., Glomeris) and is suggestive also for derived, ring-forming diplopods (e.g., Juliformia).

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