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Dev Biol. 2013 Feb 1;374(1):174-84. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2012.11.026. Epub 2012 Nov 29.

Changes in anterior head patterning underlie the evolution of long germ embryogenesis.

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Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Göttingen Center of Molecular Biology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Justus-von-Liebig-Weg 11, 37077 Göttingen, Germany.


Early embryonic stages differ significantly among related animal taxa while subsequent development converges at the conserved phylotypic stage before again diverging. Although this phenomenon has long been observed, its underlying genetic mechanisms remain enigmatic. The dipteran Drosophila melanogaster develops as a long germ embryo where the head anlagen form a cap at the anterior pole of the blastoderm. Consequently, the anterior and terminal maternal systems give crucial input for head patterning. However, in the short germ beetle Tribolium castaneum, as in most insects, the head anlagen is located at a ventral position distant from the anterior pole of the blastoderm. In line with these divergent embryonic anlagen, several differences in the axis formation between the insects have been discovered. We now ask to what extent patterning and morphogenesis of the anterior median region (AMR) of the head, including clypeolabral and stomodeal anlagen, differ among these insects. Unexpectedly, we find that Tc-huckebein is not a terminal gap gene and, unlike its Drosophila ortholog, is not involved in Tribolium head development. Instead, Tc-six3 acts upstream of Tc-crocodile and Tc-cap'n'collar to pattern posterior and anterior parts of the AMR, respectively. We further find that instead of huckebein, Tc-crocodile is required for stomodeum development by activating Tc-forkhead. Finally, a morphogenetic movement not found in Drosophila shapes the embryonic head of Tribolium. Apparently, with anterior displacement of the head anlagen during long germ evolution of Drosophila, the ancestral regulation by the bilaterian anterior control gene six3 was replaced by the anterior and terminal maternal systems, which were further elaborated by adding bicoid, tailless and huckebein as anterior regionalization genes.

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