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Nature. 2012 Jul 12;487(7406):231-4. doi: 10.1038/nature11180.

Independent evolution of striated muscles in cnidarians and bilaterians.

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Department for Molecular Evolution and Development, Centre for Organismal Systems Biology, University of Vienna, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.


Striated muscles are present in bilaterian animals (for example, vertebrates, insects and annelids) and some non-bilaterian eumetazoans (that is, cnidarians and ctenophores). The considerable ultrastructural similarity of striated muscles between these animal groups is thought to reflect a common evolutionary origin. Here we show that a muscle protein core set, including a type II myosin heavy chain (MyHC) motor protein characteristic of striated muscles in vertebrates, was already present in unicellular organisms before the origin of multicellular animals. Furthermore, 'striated muscle' and 'non-muscle' myhc orthologues are expressed differentially in two sponges, compatible with a functional diversification before the origin of true muscles and the subsequent use of striated muscle MyHC in fast-contracting smooth and striated muscle. Cnidarians and ctenophores possess striated muscle myhc orthologues but lack crucial components of bilaterian striated muscles, such as genes that code for titin and the troponin complex, suggesting the convergent evolution of striated muscles. Consistently, jellyfish orthologues of a shared set of bilaterian Z-disc proteins are not associated with striated muscles, but are instead expressed elsewhere or ubiquitously. The independent evolution of eumetazoan striated muscles through the addition of new proteins to a pre-existing, ancestral contractile apparatus may serve as a model for the evolution of complex animal cell types.

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