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Development. 2005 Apr;132(7):1663-74. Epub 2005 Mar 2.

Making very similar embryos with divergent genomes: conservation of regulatory mechanisms of Otx between the ascidians Halocynthia roretzi and Ciona intestinalis.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, Tokyo Metropolitan University, 1-1 Minamiohsawa, Hachiohji, Tokyo 192-0397, Japan.


Ascidian embryos develop with a fixed cell lineage into simple tadpoles. Their lineage is almost perfectly conserved, even between the evolutionarily distant species Halocynthia roretzi and Ciona intestinalis, which show no detectable sequence conservation in the non-coding regions of studied orthologous genes. To address how a common developmental program can be maintained without detectable cis-regulatory sequence conservation, we compared in both species the regulation of Otx, a gene with a shared complex expression pattern. We found that in Halocynthia, the regulatory logic is based on the use of very simple cell line-specific regulatory modules, the activities of which are conserved, in most cases, in the Ciona embryo. The activity of each of these enhancer modules relies on the conservation of a few repeated crucial binding sites for transcriptional activators, without obvious constraints on their precise number, order or orientation, or on the surrounding sequences. We propose that a combination of simplicity and degeneracy allows the conservation of the regulatory logic, despite drastic sequence divergence. The regulation of Otx in the anterior endoderm by Lhx and Fox factors may even be conserved with vertebrates.

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