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Development. 2004 Dec;131(24):6053-69. Epub 2004 Nov 10.

Pigment pattern evolution by differential deployment of neural crest and post-embryonic melanophore lineages in Danio fishes.

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Section of Integrative Biology, Section of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C0930, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Latent precursors or stem cells of neural crest origin are present in a variety of post-embryonic tissues. Although these cells are of biomedical interest for roles in human health and disease, their potential evolutionary significance has been underappreciated. As a first step towards elucidating the contributions of such cells to the evolution of vertebrate form, we investigated the relative roles of neural crest cells and post-embryonic latent precursors during the evolutionary diversification of adult pigment patterns in Danio fishes. These pigment patterns result from the numbers and arrangements of embryonic melanophores that are derived from embryonic neural crest cells, as well as from post-embryonic metamorphic melanophores that are derived from latent precursors of presumptive neural crest origin. In the zebrafish D. rerio, a pattern of melanophore stripes arises during the larval-to-adult transformation by the recruitment of metamorphic melanophores from latent precursors. Using a comparative approach in the context of new phylogenetic data, we show that adult pigment patterns in five additional species also arise from metamorphic melanophores, identifying this as an ancestral mode of adult pigment pattern development. By contrast, superficially similar adult stripes of D. nigrofasciatus (a sister species to D. rerio) arise by the reorganization of melanophores that differentiated at embryonic stages, with a diminished contribution from metamorphic melanophores. Genetic mosaic and molecular marker analyses reveal evolutionary changes that are extrinsic to D. nigrofasciatus melanophore lineages, including a dramatic reduction of metamorphic melanophore precursors. Finally, interspecific complementation tests identify a candidate genetic pathway for contributing to the evolutionary reduction in metamorphic melanophores and the increased contribution of early larval melanophores to D. nigrofasciatus adult pigment pattern development. These results demonstrate an important role for latent precursors in the diversification of pigment patterns across danios. More generally, differences in the deployment of post-embryonic neural crest-derived stem cells or their specified progeny may contribute substantially to the evolutionary diversification of adult form in vertebrates, particularly in species that undergo a metamorphosis.

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