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PLoS One. 2013 Dec 31;8(12):e84363. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084363. eCollection 2013.

Evidence for involvement of Wnt signalling in body polarities, cell proliferation, and the neuro-sensory system in an adult ctenophore.

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Systématique, Adaptation, Evolution, Unité Mixte de Recherche (UMR) 7138 CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), Université Pierre et Marie Curie - Paris 6, Paris, France.


Signalling through the Wnt family of secreted proteins originated in a common metazoan ancestor and greatly influenced the evolution of animal body plans. In bilaterians, Wnt signalling plays multiple fundamental roles during embryonic development and in adult tissues, notably in axial patterning, neural development and stem cell regulation. Studies in various cnidarian species have particularly highlighted the evolutionarily conserved role of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway in specification and patterning of the primary embryonic axis. However in another key non-bilaterian phylum, Ctenophora, Wnts are not involved in early establishment of the body axis during embryogenesis. We analysed the expression in the adult of the ctenophore Pleurobrachia pileus of 11 orthologues of Wnt signalling genes including all ctenophore Wnt ligands and Fz receptors and several members of the intracellular β-catenin pathway machinery. All genes are strongly expressed around the mouth margin at the oral pole, evoking the Wnt oral centre of cnidarians. This observation is consistent with primary axis polarisation by the Wnts being a universal metazoan feature, secondarily lost in ctenophores during early development but retained in the adult. In addition, local expression of Wnt signalling genes was seen in various anatomical structures of the body including in the locomotory comb rows, where their complex deployment suggests control by the Wnts of local comb polarity. Other important contexts of Wnt involvement which probably evolved before the ctenophore/cnidarian/bilaterian split include proliferating stem cells and progenitors irrespective of cell types, and developing as well as differentiated neuro-sensory structures.

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