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Natale A.,Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn | Sims C.,Stowers Institute for Medical Research | Chiusano M.L.,University of Naples Federico II | Amoroso A.,Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn | And 7 more authors.
BMC Evolutionary Biology | Year: 2011

Background: The Hox family of transcription factors has a fundamental role in segmentation pathways and axial patterning of embryonic development and their clustered organization is linked with the regulatory mechanisms governing their coordinated expression along embryonic axes. Among chordates, of particular interest are the Hox paralogous genes in groups 1-4 since their expression is coupled to the control of regional identity in the anterior nervous system, where the highest structural diversity is observed. Results: To investigate the degree of conservation in cis-regulatory components that form the basis of Hox expression in the anterior nervous system, we have used assays for transcriptional activity in ascidians and vertebrates to compare and contrast regulatory potential. We identified four regulatory sequences located near the CiHox1, CiHox2 and CiHox4 genes of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis which direct neural specific domains of expression. Using functional assays in Ciona and vertebrate embryos in combination with sequence analyses of enhancer fragments located in similar positions adjacent to Hox paralogy group genes, we compared the activity of these four Ciona cis-elements with a series of neural specific enhancers from the amphioxus Hox1-3 genes and from mouse Hox paralogous groups 1-4. Conclusions: This analysis revealed that Kreisler and Krox20 dependent enhancers critical in segmental regulation of the hindbrain appear to be specific for the vertebrate lineage. In contrast, neural enhancers that function as Hox response elements through the action of Hox/Pbx binding motifs have been conserved during chordate evolution. The functional assays reveal that these Hox response cis-elements are recognized by the regulatory components of different and extant species. Together, our results indicate that during chordate evolution, cis-elements dependent upon Hox/Pbx regulatory complexes, are responsible for key aspects of segmental Hox expression in neural tissue and appeared with urochordates after cephalochordate divergence. © 2011 Natale et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

D'Aniello E.,Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn | D'Aniello E.,7020 Cincinnati Childrens Hospital Medical Center | Pezzotti M.R.,Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn | Locascio A.,Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn | Branno M.,Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn
Developmental Biology | Year: 2011

Retinal homeobox (Rx) genes play a crucial and conserved role in the development of the anterior neural plate of metazoans. During chordate evolution, they have also acquired a novel function in the control of eye formation and neurogenesis. To characterize the Rx genetic cascade and shed light on the mechanisms that led to the acquisition of this new role in eye development, we studied Rx transcriptional regulation using the ascidian, Ciona intestinalis. Through deletion analysis of the Ci-Rx promoter, we have identified two distinct enhancer elements able to induce Ci-Rx specific expression in the anterior part of the CNS and in the photosensory organ at tailbud and larva stages. Bioinformatic analysis highlighted the presence of two Onecut binding sites contained in these enhancers, so we explored the role of this transcription factor in the regulation of Ci-Rx. By in situ hybridization, we first confirmed that these genes are co-expressed in the same cells. Through a series of in vivo and in vitro experiments, we then demonstrated that the two Onecut sites are responsible for enhancer activation in Ci-Rx endogenous territories. We also demonstrated in vivo that Onecut misexpression is able to induce ectopic activation of the Rx promoter. Finally, we demonstrated that Ci-Onecut is able to promote Ci-Rx expression in the sensory vesicle. Together, these results support the conclusion that in Ciona embryogenesis, Ci-Rx expression is under the control of the Onecut transcription factor and that this factor is necessary and sufficient to specifically activate Ci-Rx through two enhancer elements. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.

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