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Dev Genes Evol. 2005 Dec;215(12):618-30. Epub 2005 Sep 29.

Genomic inventory and expression of Sox and Fox genes in the cnidarian Nematostella vectensis.

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Kewalo Marine Laboratory, Pacific Biomedical Research Center, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA.


The Sox and Forkhead (Fox) gene families are comprised of transcription factors that play important roles in a variety of developmental processes, including germ layer specification, gastrulation, cell fate determination, and morphogenesis. Both the Sox and Fox gene families are divided into subgroups based on the amino acid sequence of their respective DNA-binding domains, the high-mobility group (HMG) box (Sox genes) or Forkhead domain (Fox genes). Utilizing the draft genome sequence of the cnidarian Nematostella vectensis, we examined the genomic complement of Sox and Fox genes in this organism to gain insight into the nature of these gene families in a basal metazoan. We identified 14 Sox genes and 15 Fox genes in Nematostella and conducted a Bayesian phylogenetic analysis comparing HMG box and Forkhead domain sequences from Nematostella with diverse taxa. We found that the majority of bilaterian Sox groups have clear Nematostella orthologs, while only a minority of Fox groups are represented, suggesting that the evolutionary pressures driving the diversification of these gene families may be distinct from one another. In addition, we examined the expression of a subset of these genes during development in Nematostella and found that some of these genes are expressed in patterns consistent with roles in germ layer specification and the regulation of cellular behaviors important for gastrulation. The diversity of expression patterns among members of these gene families in Nematostella reinforces the notion that despite their relatively simple morphology, cnidarians possess much of the molecular complexity observed in bilaterian taxa.

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