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Molecular phylogeny of four homeobox genes from the purple sea star Pisaster ochraceus

Matassi, Giorgio; Imai, Janice Hitomi; Di Gregorio, Anna
Homeobox genes cloned from the purple sea star Pisaster ochraceus (Phylum Echinodermata/Class Asteroidea) were used along with related sequences available from members of other representative animal phyla to generate molecular phylogenies for Distal-less/Dlx, Hox5, Hox7, and Hox9/10 homeobox genes. Phylogenetic relationships were inferred based on the predicted 60 amino acid homeodomain, using amino acid (AA) and nucleotide (NT) models as well as the recently developed codon substitution models of sequence evolution. The resulting phylogenetic trees were mostly congruent with the consensus species-tree, grouping these newly identified genes with those isolated from other Asteroidea. This analysis also allowed a preliminary comparison of the performance of codon models with that of NT and AA evolutionary models in the inference of homeobox phylogeny. We found that, overall, the NT models displayed low reliability in recovering major clades at the Superphylum/Phylum level, and that codon models were slightly more dependable than AA models. Remarkably, in the majority of cases, codon substitution models seemed to outperform both AA and NT models at both the Class level and homeobox paralogy-group level of classification.
PMID: 26432455
ISSN: 1432-041x
CID: 1790252

Insulin-like genes in ascidians: Findings in Ciona and hypotheses on the evolutionary origins of the pancreas

Thompson, Jordan M; Di Gregorio, Anna
Insulin plays an extensively characterized role in the control of sugar metabolism, growth and homeostasis in a wide range of organisms. In vertebrate chordates, insulin is mainly produced by the beta cells of the endocrine pancreas, while in non-chordate animals insulin-producing cells are mainly found in the nervous system and/or scattered along the digestive tract. However, recent studies have indicated the notochord, the defining feature of the chordate phylum, as an additional site of expression of insulin-like peptides. Here we show that two of the three insulin-like genes identified in Ciona intestinalis, an invertebrate chordate with a dual life cycle, are first expressed in the developing notochord during embryogenesis and transition to distinct areas of the adult digestive tract after metamorphosis. In addition, we present data suggesting that the transcription factor Ciona Brachyury is involved in the control of notochord expression of at least one of these genes, Ciona insulin-like 2. Finally, we review the information currently available on insulin-producing cells in ascidians and on pancreas-related transcription factors that might control their expression. genesis 00:1-23, 2014. (c) 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
PMCID:4308489
PMID: 25378051
ISSN: 1526-954x
CID: 1345432

Functional Brachyury binding sites establish a temporal read-out of gene expression in the Ciona notochord

Katikala, Lavanya; Aihara, Hitoshi; Passamaneck, Yale J; Gazdoiu, Stefan; Jose-Edwards, Diana S; Kugler, Jamie E; Oda-Ishii, Izumi; Imai, Janice H; Nibu, Yutaka; Di Gregorio, Anna
The appearance of the notochord represented a milestone in Deuterostome evolution. The notochord is necessary for the development of the chordate body plan and for the formation of the vertebral column and numerous organs. It is known that the transcription factor Brachyury is required for notochord formation in all chordates, and that it controls transcription of a large number of target genes. However, studies of the structure of the cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) through which this control is exerted are complicated in vertebrates by the genomic complexity and the pan-mesodermal expression territory of Brachyury. We used the ascidian Ciona, in which the single-copy Brachyury is notochord-specific and CRMs are easily identifiable, to carry out a systematic characterization of Brachyury-downstream notochord CRMs. We found that Ciona Brachyury (Ci-Bra) controls most of its targets directly, through non-palindromic binding sites that function either synergistically or individually to activate early- and middle-onset genes, respectively, while late-onset target CRMs are controlled indirectly, via transcriptional intermediaries. These results illustrate how a transcriptional regulator can efficiently shape a shallow gene regulatory network into a multi-tiered transcriptional output, and provide insights into the mechanisms that establish temporal read-outs of gene expression in a fast-developing chordate embryo.
PMCID:3812116
PMID: 24204212
ISSN: 1544-9173
CID: 1345442

Optimization of a method for chromatin immunoprecipitation assays in the marine invertebrate chordate Ciona

Aihara, Hitoshi; Katikala, Lavanya; Zeller, Robert W; Di Gregorio, Anna; Nibu, Yutaka
Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays allow the efficient characterization of the in vivo occupancy of genomic regions by DNA-binding proteins and thus facilitate the prediction of cis-regulatory sequences in silico and guide their validation in vivo. For these reasons, these assays and their permutations (e.g., ChIP-on-chip and ChIP-sequencing) are currently being extended to several non-mainstream model organisms, as the availability of specific antibodies increases. Here, we describe the development of a polyclonal antibody against the Brachyury protein of the marine invertebrate chordate Ciona intestinalis and provide a detailed ChIP protocol that should be easily adaptable to other marine organisms.
PMCID:3744622
PMID: 23592257
ISSN: 1436-2228
CID: 1345472

Tbx2/3 is an essential mediator within the Brachyury gene network during Ciona notochord development

Jose-Edwards, Diana S; Oda-Ishii, Izumi; Nibu, Yutaka; Di Gregorio, Anna
T-box genes are potent regulators of mesoderm development in many metazoans. In chordate embryos, the T-box transcription factor Brachyury (Bra) is required for specification and differentiation of the notochord. In some chordates, including the ascidian Ciona, members of the Tbx2 subfamily of T-box genes are also expressed in this tissue; however, their regulatory relationships with Bra and their contributions to the development of the notochord remain uncharacterized. We determined that the notochord expression of Ciona Tbx2/3 (Ci-Tbx2/3) requires Ci-Bra, and identified a Ci-Tbx2/3 notochord CRM that necessitates multiple Ci-Bra binding sites for its activity. Expression of mutant forms of Ci-Tbx2/3 in the developing notochord revealed a role for this transcription factor primarily in convergent extension. Through microarray screens, we uncovered numerous Ci-Tbx2/3 targets, some of which overlap with known Ci-Bra-downstream notochord genes. Among the Ci-Tbx2/3 notochord targets are evolutionarily conserved genes, including caspases, lineage-specific genes, such as Noto4, and newly identified genes, such as MLKL. This work sheds light on a large section of the notochord regulatory circuitry controlled by T-box factors, and reveals new components of the complement of genes required for the proper formation of this structure.
PMCID:3653562
PMID: 23674602
ISSN: 0950-1991
CID: 1345452

From notochord formation to hereditary chordoma: the many roles of Brachyury

Nibu, Yutaka; Jose-Edwards, Diana S; Di Gregorio, Anna
Chordoma is a rare, but often malignant, bone cancer that preferentially affects the axial skeleton and the skull base. These tumors are both sporadic and hereditary and appear to occur more frequently after the fourth decade of life; however, modern technologies have increased the detection of pediatric chordomas. Chordomas originate from remnants of the notochord, the main embryonic axial structure that precedes the backbone, and share with notochord cells both histological features and the expression of characteristic genes. One such gene is Brachyury, which encodes for a sequence-specific transcription factor. Known for decades as a main regulator of notochord formation, Brachyury has recently gained interest as a biomarker and causative agent of chordoma, and therefore as a promising therapeutic target. Here, we review the main characteristics of chordoma, the molecular markers, and the clinical approaches currently available for the early detection and possible treatment of this cancer. In particular, we report on the current knowledge of the role of Brachyury and of its possible mechanisms of action in both notochord formation and chordoma etiogenesis.
PMCID:3626178
PMID: 23662285
ISSN: 2314-6141
CID: 1345462

The brachyury locus

Chapter by: Di Gregorio, Anna
in: Brenner's encyclopedia of genetics by Maloy, Stanley R; Hughes, Kelly Thomas; Brenner, Sydney (Eds)
Amsterdam : Elsevier/Academic Press, 2013
pp. ?-?
ISBN: 0123749840
CID: 2744862

The identification of transcription factors expressed in the notochord of Ciona intestinalis adds new potential players to the brachyury gene regulatory network

Jose-Edwards, Diana S; Kerner, Pierre; Kugler, Jamie E; Deng, Wei; Jiang, Di; Di Gregorio, Anna
The notochord is the distinctive characteristic of chordates; however, the knowledge of the complement of transcription factors governing the development of this structure is still incomplete. Here we present the expression patterns of seven transcription factor genes detected in the notochord of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis at various stages of embryonic development. Four of these transcription factors, Fos-a, NFAT5, AFF and Klf15, have not been directly associated with the notochord in previous studies, while the others, including Spalt-like-a, Lmx-like, and STAT5/6-b, display evolutionarily conserved expression in this structure as well as in other domains. We examined the hierarchical relationships between these genes and the transcription factor Brachyury, which is necessary for notochord development in all chordates. We found that Ciona Brachyury regulates the expression of most, although not all, of these genes. These results shed light on the genetic regulatory program underlying notochord formation in Ciona and possibly other chordates.
PMCID:3685856
PMID: 21594950
ISSN: 1058-8388
CID: 1345482

Evolutionary changes in the notochord genetic toolkit: a comparative analysis of notochord genes in the ascidian Ciona and the larvacean Oikopleura

Kugler, Jamie E; Kerner, Pierre; Bouquet, Jean-Marie; Jiang, Di; Di Gregorio, Anna
BACKGROUND: The notochord is a defining feature of the chordate clade, and invertebrate chordates, such as tunicates, are uniquely suited for studies of this structure. Here we used a well-characterized set of 50 notochord genes known to be targets of the notochord-specific Brachyury transcription factor in one tunicate, Ciona intestinalis (Class Ascidiacea), to begin determining whether the same genetic toolkit is employed to build the notochord in another tunicate, Oikopleura dioica (Class Larvacea). We identified Oikopleura orthologs of the Ciona notochord genes, as well as lineage-specific duplicates for which we determined the phylogenetic relationships with related genes from other chordates, and we analyzed their expression patterns in Oikopleura embryos. RESULTS: Of the 50 Ciona notochord genes that were used as a reference, only 26 had clearly identifiable orthologs in Oikopleura. Two of these conserved genes appeared to have undergone Oikopleura- and/or tunicate-specific duplications, and one was present in three copies in Oikopleura, thus bringing the number of genes to test to 30. We were able to clone and test 28 of these genes. Thirteen of the 28 Oikopleura orthologs of Ciona notochord genes showed clear expression in all or in part of the Oikopleura notochord, seven were diffusely expressed throughout the tail, six were expressed in tissues other than the notochord, while two probes did not provide a detectable signal at any of the stages analyzed. One of the notochord genes identified, Oikopleura netrin, was found to be unevenly expressed in notochord cells, in a pattern reminiscent of that previously observed for one of the Oikopleura Hox genes. CONCLUSIONS: A surprisingly high number of Ciona notochord genes do not have apparent counterparts in Oikopleura, and only a fraction of the evolutionarily conserved genes show clear notochord expression. This suggests that Ciona and Oikopleura, despite the morphological similarities of their notochords, have developed rather divergent sets of notochord genes after their split from a common tunicate ancestor. This study demonstrates that comparisons between divergent tunicates can lead to insights into the basic complement of genes sufficient for notochord development, and elucidate the constraints that control its composition.
PMCID:3034685
PMID: 21251251
ISSN: 1471-2148
CID: 1345492

Temporal regulation of the muscle gene cascade by Macho1 and Tbx6 transcription factors in Ciona intestinalis

Kugler, Jamie E; Gazdoiu, Stefan; Oda-Ishii, Izumi; Passamaneck, Yale J; Erives, Albert J; Di Gregorio, Anna
For over a century, muscle formation in the ascidian embryo has been representative of 'mosaic' development. The molecular basis of muscle-fate predetermination has been partly elucidated with the discovery of Macho1, a maternal zinc-finger transcription factor necessary and sufficient for primary muscle development, and of its transcriptional intermediaries Tbx6b and Tbx6c. However, the molecular mechanisms by which the maternal information is decoded by cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) associated with muscle transcription factor and structural genes, and the ways by which a seamless transition from maternal to zygotic transcription is ensured, are still mostly unclear. By combining misexpression assays with CRM analyses, we have identified the mechanisms through which Ciona Macho1 (Ci-Macho1) initiates expression of Ci-Tbx6b and Ci-Tbx6c, and we have unveiled the cross-regulatory interactions between the latter transcription factors. Knowledge acquired from the analysis of the Ci-Tbx6b CRM facilitated both the identification of a related CRM in the Ci-Tbx6c locus and the characterization of two CRMs associated with the structural muscle gene fibrillar collagen 1 (CiFCol1). We use these representative examples to reconstruct how compact CRMs orchestrate the muscle developmental program from pre-localized ooplasmic determinants to differentiated larval muscle in ascidian embryos.
PMCID:2894658
PMID: 20592183
ISSN: 0021-9533
CID: 1345502