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Dev Genes Evol. 2009 Jan;219(1):37-43. doi: 10.1007/s00427-008-0264-6. Epub 2008 Nov 15.

And Lophotrochozoa makes three: Notch/Hes signaling in annelid segmentation.

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Deparment of MCB, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Segmentation is unquestionably a major factor in the evolution of complex body plans, but how this trait itself evolved is unknown. Approaching this problem requires comparing the molecular mechanisms of segmentation in diverse segmented and unsegmented taxa. Notch/Hes signaling is involved in segmentation in sequentially segmenting vertebrates and arthropods, as judged by patterns of expression of one or more genes in this network and by the disruption of segmental patterning when Notch/Hes signaling is disrupted. We have previously shown that Notch and Hes homologs are expressed in the posterior progress zone (PPZ), from which segments arise, in the leech Helobdella robusta, a sequentially segmenting lophotrochozoan (phylum Annelida). Here, we show that disrupting Notch/Hes signaling disrupts segmentation in this species as well. Thus, Notch/Hes functions in either the maintenance of the PPZ and/or the patterning processes of segmentation in representatives of all three superphyla of bilaterally symmetric animals. These results are consistent with two evolutionary scenarios. In one, segmentation was already present in the ancestor of all three superphyla. In the other, Notch/Hes signaling functioned in axial growth by terminal addition in an unsegmented bilaterian ancestor, and was subsequently exapted to function in segmentation as that process evolved independently in two or more taxa.

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