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Dev Dyn. 2007 Jun;236(6):1379-91.

Evolutionary conservation and divergence of the segmentation process in arthropods.

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Institut für Genetik der Universität zu Köln, Zülpicher Str. 47, 50674 Köln, Germany.


A fundamental characteristic of the arthropod body plan is its organization in metameric units along the anterior-posterior axis. The segmental organization is laid down during early embryogenesis. Our view on arthropod segmentation is still strongly influenced by the huge amount of data available from the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (the Drosophila paradigm). However, the simultaneous formation of the segments in Drosophila is a derived mode of segmentation. Successive terminal addition of segments from a posteriorly localized presegmental zone is the ancestral mode of arthropod segmentation. This review focuses on the evolutionary conservation and divergence of the genetic mechanisms of segmentation within arthropods. The more downstream levels of the segmentation gene network (e.g., segment polarity genes) appear to be more conserved than the more upstream levels (gap genes, Notch/Delta signaling). Surprisingly, the basally branched arthropod groups also show similarities to mechanisms used in vertebrate somitogenesis. Furthermore, it has become clear that the activation of pair rule gene orthologs is a key step in the segmentation of all arthropods. Important findings of conserved and diverged aspects of segmentation from the last few years now allow us to draw an evolutionary scenario on how the mechanisms of segmentation could have evolved and led to the present mechanisms seen in various insect groups including dipterans like Drosophila.

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