[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Metazoan genes are embedded in a rich milieu of regulatory information that often includes multiple enhancers possessing overlapping activities. In this study, we employ quantitative live imaging methods to assess the function of pairs of primary and shadow enhancers in the regulation of key patterning genes-knirps, hunchback, and snail-in developing Drosophila embryos. The knirps enhancers exhibit additive, sometimes even super-additive activities, consistent with classical gene fusion studies. In contrast, the hunchback enhancers function sub-additively in anterior regions containing saturating levels of the Bicoid activator, but function additively in regions where there are diminishing levels of the Bicoid gradient. Strikingly sub-additive behavior is also observed for snail, whereby removal of the proximal enhancer causes a significant increase in gene expression. Quantitative modeling of enhancer-promoter interactions suggests that weakly active enhancers function additively while strong enhancers behave sub-additively due to competition with the target promoter.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The sudden appearance of the neural crest and neurogenic placodes in early branching vertebrates has puzzled biologists for over a century. These embryonic tissues contribute to the development of the cranium and associated sensory organs, which were crucial for the evolution of the vertebrate "new head". A previous study suggests that rudimentary neural crest cells existed in ancestral chordates. However, the evolutionary origins of neurogenic placodes have remained obscure owing to a paucity of embryonic data from tunicates, the closest living relatives to those early vertebrates. Here we show that the tunicate Ciona intestinalis exhibits a proto-placodal ectoderm (PPE) that requires inhibition of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) and expresses the key regulatory determinant Six1/2 and its co-factor Eya, a developmental process conserved across vertebrates. The Ciona PPE is shown to produce ciliated neurons that express genes for gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), a G-protein-coupled receptor for relaxin-3 (RXFP3) and a functional cyclic nucleotide-gated channel (CNGA), which suggests dual chemosensory and neurosecretory activities. These observations provide evidence that Ciona has a neurogenic proto-placode, which forms neurons that appear to be related to those derived from the olfactory placode and hypothalamic neurons of vertebrates. We discuss the possibility that the PPE-derived GnRH neurons of Ciona resemble an ancestral cell type, a progenitor to the complex neuronal circuit that integrates sensory information and neuroendocrine functions in vertebrates.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: It has been more than 30 years since the publication of the new head hypothesis, which proposed that the vertebrate head is an evolutionary novelty resulting from the emergence of neural crest and cranial placodes. Neural crest generates the skull and associated connective tissues, whereas placodes produce sensory organs. However, neither crest nor placodes produce head muscles, which are a crucial component of the complex vertebrate head. We discuss emerging evidence for a surprising link between the evolution of head muscles and chambered hearts — both systems arise from a common pool of mesoderm progenitor cells within the cardiopharyngeal field of vertebrate embryos. We consider the origin of this field in non-vertebrate chordates and its evolution in vertebrates.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The ascidian Ciona intestinalis is a marine invertebrate belonging to the sister group of the vertebrates, the tunicates. Its compact genome and simple, experimentally tractable embryos make Ciona well-suited for the study of cell-fate specification in chordates. Tunicate larvae possess a characteristic chordate body plan, and many developmental pathways are conserved between tunicates and vertebrates. Previous studies have shown that FGF signals are essential for neural induction and patterning at sequential steps of Ciona embryogenesis. Here we show that two different ETS family transcription factors, Ets1/2 and Elk1/3/4, have distinct activities in the anterior neural plate of gastrulating embryos. Whereas Ets1/2 mediates pigment cell formation in lateral lineages, Elk1/3/4 is required for activation of Myt1L in medial lineages and for restricting Six3/6 expression to the anterior-most regions of the neural tube. We also provide evidence that photoreceptor cells arise from posterior regions of the presumptive sensory vesicle, and do not depend on FGF signaling. Cells previously identified as photoreceptor progenitors instead form ependymal cells and neurons of the larval brain. Our results extend recent findings on FGF-dependent patterning of anterior-posterior compartments in the Ciona central nervous system.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recent evidence suggests that ascidian pigment cells are related to neural crest-derived melanocytes of vertebrates. Using live-imaging, we determine a revised cell lineage of the pigment cells in Ciona intestinalis embryos. The neural precursors undergo successive rounds of anterior-posterior (A-P) oriented cell divisions, starting at the blastula 64-cell stage. A previously unrecognized fourth A-P oriented cell division in the pigment cell lineage leads to the generation of the post-mitotic pigment cell precursors. We provide evidence that MEK/ERK signals are required for pigment cell specification until approximately 30 minutes after the final cell division has taken place. Following each of the four A-P oriented cell divisions, ERK1/2 is differentially activated in the posterior sister cells, into which the pigment cell lineage segregates. Eph/ephrin signals are critical during the third A-P oriented cell division to spatially restrict ERK1/2 activation to the posterior daughter cell. Targeted inhibition of Eph/ephrin signals results in, at neurula stages, anterior expansion of both ERK1/2 activation and a pigment cell lineage marker and subsequently, at larval stages, supernumerary pigment cells. We discuss the implications of these findings with respect to the evolution of the vertebrate neural crest.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: There is considerable information about the spatial regulation of gene expression during pattern formation in animal development. Significantly less is known about temporal control, in part due to our inability to analyze gene activity in real time. Using a recently developed approach for the visualization of gene expression in living Drosophila embryos, we examined the well-known even-skipped stripe 2 expression pattern. Surprisingly, we observe that this classic pattern is quite transient and generated by discontinuous surges of transcriptional activity in individual cells. These results challenge a purely static framework for dissecting developmental programs and emphasize the importance of the dynamic features of pattern formation.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 07/2014; 111(29):10598. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1410022111 · 9.81 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Lucas et al. report the visualization of V(D)J recombination of the immunoglobulin heavy-chain gene (Igh) in living pro-B cells. Despite the huge distances separating V coding sequences from D-J sequences (∼2 Mb), the authors document an astonishingly rapid rate of remote associations. The key to speed is contraction of the Igh chromosomal domain. These findings provide a foundation for understanding long-range regulatory interactions in a variety of developmental processes, including the patterning of vertebrate limbs.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Comparative genome analyses reveal that organismal complexity scales not with gene number but with gene regulation. Recent efforts indicate that the human genome likely contains hundreds of thousands of enhancers, with a typical gene embedded in a milieu of tens of enhancers. Proliferation of cis-regulatory DNAs is accompanied by increased complexity and functional diversification of transcriptional machineries recognizing distal enhancers and core promoters and by the high-order spatial organization of genetic elements. We review progress in unraveling one of the outstanding mysteries of modern biology: the dynamic communication of remote enhancers with target promoters in the specification of cellular identity.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: ERK1/2 MAP kinase exhibits a highly dynamic activation pattern in developing embryos, which largely depends on fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signals. In ascidian embryos, FGF-dependent activation of ERK1/2 occurs differentially between sister cells during marginal zone and neural lineage patterning. Selective attenuation of FGF signals by localised ephrin/Eph signals accounts for this differential ERK activation, which controls the binary fate choice of each sibling cell pair. Here, we show that p120 Ras GTPase-activating protein (p120RasGAP) is a crucial mediator of these ephrin/Eph signals. First, inhibition of p120RasGAP has a similar effect to inhibition of ephrin/Eph function during marginal zone and neural patterning. Second, p120RasGAP acts epistatically to ephrin/Eph signals. Third, p120RasGAP physically associates with Eph3 in an ephrin-dependent manner. This study provides the first in vivo evidence that the functional association between Eph and RasGAP controls the spatial extent of FGF-activated ERK.
Development 09/2013; 140(21). DOI:10.1242/dev.098756 · 6.27 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Transcription is commonly held to be a highly stochastic process, resulting in considerable heterogeneity of gene expression among the different cells in a population. Here, we employ quantitative in situ hybridization methods coupled with high-resolution imaging assays to measure the expression of snail, a developmental patterning gene necessary for coordinating the invagination of the mesoderm during gastrulation of the Drosophila embryo. Our measurements of steady-state mRNAs suggest that there is very little variation in snail expression across the different cells that make up the mesoderm and that synthesis approaches the kinetic limits of Pol II processivity. We propose that rapid transcription kinetics and negative autoregulation are responsible for the remarkable homogeneity of snail expression and the coordination of mesoderm invagination.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Neural crest arises at the neural plate border, expresses a core set of regulatory genes and produces a diverse array of cell types, including ectomesenchyme derivatives that elaborate the vertebrate head. The evolution of neural crest has been proposed to be a key event leading to the appearance of new cell types that fostered the transition from filter feeding to active predation in ancestral vertebrates. However, the origin of neural crest remains controversial, as homologous cell types have not been unambiguously identified in non-vertebrate chordates. Here we show that the tunicate Ciona intestinalis possesses a cephalic melanocyte lineage (a9.49) similar to neural crest that can be reprogrammed into migrating 'ectomesenchyme' by the targeted misexpression of Twist (also known as twist-like 2). Our results suggest that the neural crest melanocyte regulatory network pre-dated the divergence of tunicates and vertebrates. We propose that the co-option of mesenchyme determinants, such as Twist, into the neural plate ectoderm was crucial to the emergence of the vertebrate 'new head'.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Activation of the gap gene hunchback (hb) by the maternal Bicoid gradient is one of the most intensively studied gene regulatory interactions in animal development. Most efforts to understand this process have focused on the classical Bicoid target enhancer located immediately upstream of the P2 promoter [1-12]. However, hb is also regulated by a recently identified distal shadow enhancer as well as a neglected "stripe" enhancer, which mediates expression in both central and posterior regions of cellularizing embryos [13, 14]. Here, we employ BAC transgenesis and quantitative imaging methods to investigate the individual contributions of these different enhancers to the dynamic hb expression pattern. These studies reveal that the stripe enhancer is crucial for establishing the definitive border of the anterior Hb expression pattern, just beyond the initial border delineated by Bicoid. Removal of this enhancer impairs dynamic expansion of hb expression and results in variable cuticular defects in the mesothorax (T2) due to abnormal patterns of segmentation gene expression. The stripe enhancer is subject to extensive regulation by gap repressors, including Kruppel, Knirps, and Hb itself. We propose that this repression helps ensure precision of the anterior Hb border in response to variations in the Bicoid gradient.
Current biology: CB 10/2012; 22(23). DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.051 · 9.92 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Post-transcriptional gene regulation is prevalent in the nervous system, where multiple tiers of regulatory complexity contribute to the development and function of highly specialized cell types. Whole-genome studies in Drosophila have identified several hundred genes containing long 3' extensions in neural tissues. We show that ELAV (embryonic-lethal abnormal visual system) is a key mediator of these neural-specific extensions. Misexpression of ELAV results in the ectopic synthesis of long messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in transgenic embryos. RNA immunoprecipitation assays suggest that ELAV directly binds the proximal polyadenylation signals of many target mRNAs. Finally, ELAV is sufficient to suppress 3' end formation at a strong polyadenylation signal when tethered to a synthetic RNA. We propose that this mechanism for coordinating 3' UTR extension may be generally used in a variety of cellular processes.
Genes & development 09/2012; 26(20):2259-64. DOI:10.1101/gad.199653.112 · 12.64 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Transcriptional repressors are thought to inhibit gene expression by interfering with the binding or function of RNA Polymerase II, perhaps by promoting local chromatin condensation. Here, we present evidence for a distinctive mechanism of repression, whereby sequence-specific repressors prevent the looping of distal enhancers to the promoter. Particular efforts focus on the Snail repressor, which plays a conserved role in promoting epithelial-mesenchyme transitions in both invertebrates and vertebrates, including mesoderm invagination in Drosophila, neural crest migration in vertebrates, and tumorigenesis in mammals. Chromosome conformation capture experiments were used to examine enhancer looping at Snail target genes in wild-type and mutant embryos. These studies suggest that the Snail repressor blocks the formation of fruitful enhancer-promoter interactions when bound to a distal enhancer. This higher-order mechanism of transcriptional repression has broad implications for the control of gene activity in metazoan development.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 05/2012; 109(24):9460-4. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1102625108 · 9.81 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The Ciona tadpole is constructed from simple, well-defined cell lineages governed by provisional gene networks that have been defined via extensive gene disruption assays. Here, we examine the patterning of the anterior neural plate, which produces placodal derivatives such as the adhesive palps and stomodeum, as well as the sensory vesicle (simple brain) of the Ciona tadpole. Evidence is presented that the doublesex-related gene DMRT is expressed throughout the anterior neural plate of neurulating embryos. It leads to the activation of FoxC and ZicL in the palp placode and anterior neural tube, respectively. This differential expression depends on FGF signaling, which inhibits FoxC expression in the anterior neural tube. Inhibition of FGF signaling leads to expanded expression of FoxC, the loss of ZicL, and truncation of the anterior neural tube.
Development 05/2012; 139(13):2351-9. DOI:10.1242/dev.078485 · 6.27 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Enhancers mediate localized patterns of gene expression during development. A common feature of "traditional" enhancers is the presence of clustered binding motifs for sequence-specific transcription factors (TFs). In this issue of Genes & Development, Kvon and colleagues (pp. 908-913) present new evidence that HOT (highly occupied transcription) DNAs direct specific patterns of gene expression, despite being depleted for TF-binding motifs.
Genes & development 05/2012; 26(9):873-6. DOI:10.1101/gad.192583.112 · 12.64 Impact Factor