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Evol Dev. 2007 Jan-Feb;9(1):25-38.

Expression of Pax gene family members in the anthozoan cnidarian, Nematostella vectensis.

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Kewalo Marine Lab, Pacific Bioscience Research Center, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96813, USA.


Pax genes are a family of homeodomain transcription factors that have been isolated from protostomes (e.g., eight in Drosophilia) and deuterostomes (e.g., nine in vertebrates) as well as outside the Bilateria, from sponges, a placozoan, and several classes of cnidarians. The genome of an anthozoan cnidarian, the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis, has been surveyed by both degenerate polymerase chain reaction and in silico for the presence of Pax genes. N. vectensis possesses seven Pax genes, which are orthologous to cnidarian Pax genes (A,B,C, and D) previously identified in another anthozoan, a coral, Acropora millepora. Phylogenetic analyses including data from nonchordate deuterostomes indicates that there were five Pax gene classes in the protostome-deuterostome ancestor, but only three in the cnidarian-bilaterian ancestor, with PaxD class genes lost in medusozoan cnidarians. Pax genes play diverse roles in bilaterians, including eye formation (e.g., Pax6), segmentation (e.g., Pax3/7 class genes), and neural patterning (e.g., Pox-neuro, Pax2/5/8). We show the first expression data for members of all four Pax classes in a single species of cnidarian. N. vectensis Pax genes are expressed in both a cell-type and region-specific manner during embryogenesis, and likely play a role in patterning specific components of the cnidarian ectodermal nerve net. The results of these patterns are discussed with respect to Pax gene evolution in the Bilateria.

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