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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 10;107(32):14263-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1008389107. Epub 2010 Jul 26.

Flexibly deployed Pax genes in eye development at the early evolution of animals demonstrated by studies on a hydrozoan jellyfish.

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Department of Cell Biology, Biozentrum, University of Basel, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.


Pax transcription factors are involved in a variety of developmental processes in bilaterians, including eye development, a role typically assigned to Pax-6. Although no true Pax-6 gene has been found in nonbilateral animals, some jellyfish have eyes with complex structures. In the cubozoan jellyfish Tripedalia, Pax-B, an ortholog of vertebrate Pax-2/5/8, had been proposed as a regulator of eye development. Here we have isolated three Pax genes (Pax-A, Pax-B, and Pax-E) from Cladonema radiatum, a hydrozoan jellyfish with elaborate eyes. Cladonema Pax-A is strongly expressed in the retina, whereas Pax-B and Pax-E are highly expressed in the manubrium, the feeding and reproductive organ. Misexpression of Cladonema Pax-A induces ectopic eyes in Drosophila imaginal discs, whereas Pax-B and Pax-E do not. Furthermore, Cladonema Pax-A paired domain protein directly binds to the 5' upstream region of eye-specific Cladonema opsin genes, whereas Pax-B does not. Our data suggest that Pax-A, but not Pax-B or Pax-E, is involved in eye development and/or maintenance in Cladonema. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that Pax-6, Pax-B, and Pax-A belong to different Pax subfamilies, which diverged at the latest before the Cnidaria-Bilateria separation. We argue that our data, showing the involvement of Pax genes in hydrozoan eye development as in bilaterians, supports the monophyletic evolutionary origin of all animal eyes. We then propose that during the early evolution of animals, distinct classes of Pax genes, which may have played redundant roles at that time, were flexibly deployed for eye development in different animal lineages.

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