Neurons and pancreatic endocrine cells have a common physiology and express a similar toolkit of transcription factors during development. To explain these common features, it has been hypothesized that pancreatic cells most likely co-opted a pre-existing gene regulatory program from ancestral neurons. To test this idea, we looked for neurons with a "pre-pancreatic" program in an early-branched deuterostome, the sea urchin. Only vertebrates have a proper pancreas, however, our lab previously found that cells with a pancreatic-like signature are localized within the sea urchin embryonic gut. We also found that the pancreatic transcription factors Xlox/Pdx1 and Brn1/2/4 co-localize in a sub-population of ectodermal cells. Here, we find that the ectodermal SpLox+ SpBrn1/2/4 cells are specified as SpSoxC and SpPtf1a neuronal precursors that become the lateral ganglion and the apical organ neurons. Two of the SpLox+ SpBrn1/2/4 cells also express another pancreatic transcription factor, the LIM-homeodomain gene islet-1. Moreover, we find that SpLox neurons produce the neuropeptide SpANP2, and that SpLox regulates SpANP2 expression. Taken together, our data reveal that there is a subset of sea urchin larval neurons with a gene program that predated pancreatic cells. These findings suggest that pancreatic endocrine cells co-opted a regulatory signature from an ancestral neuron that was already present in an early-branched deuterostome.
Perillo, M., Paganos, P., Mattiello, T., Cocurullo, M., Oliveri, P., & Arnone, M. I. (2018). New Neuronal Subtypes With a “Pre-Pancreatic” Signature in the Sea Urchin Stongylocentrotus purpuratus. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2018.00650