Background: The evolutionary origins of cell polarity in metazoan embryos are unclear. In most bilaterian animals, embryonic and cell polarity are set up during embryogenesis with the same molecules being utilized to regulate tissue polarity at different life stages. Atypical protein kinase C (aPKC), lethal giant larvae (Lgl), and Partitioning-defective (Par) proteins are conserved components of cellular polarization, and their role in establishing embryonic asymmetry and tissue polarity have been widely studied in model bilaterian groups. However, the deployment and role of these proteins in animals outside Bilateria has not been studied. We address this by characterizing the localization of different components of the Par system during early development of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, a member of the clade Cnidaria, the sister group to bilaterian animals. Results: Immunostaining using specific N. vectensis antibodies and the overexpression of mRNA-reporter constructs show that components of the N. vectensis Par system (NvPar-1, NvPar-3, NvPar-6, NvaPKC, and NvLgl) distribute throughout the microtubule cytoskeleton of eggs and early embryos without clear polarization along any embryonic axis. However, they become asymmetrically distributed at later stages, when the embryo forms an ectodermal epithelial layer. NvLgl and NvPar-1 localize in the basolateral cortex, and NvaPKC, NvPar-6, and NvPar-3 at the apical zone of the cell in a manner seen in bilaterian animals. Conclusions: The cnidarian N. vectensis exhibits clear polarity at all stages of early embryonic development, which appears to be established independent of the Par system reported in many bilaterian embryos. However, in N. vectensis, using multiple immunohistochemical and fluorescently labeled markers in vivo, components of this system are deployed to organize epithelial cell polarity at later stages of development. This suggests that Par system proteins were co-opted to organize early embryonic cell polarity at the base of the Bilateria and that, therefore, different molecular mechanisms operate in early cnidarian embryogenesis.
Salinas-Saavedra, M., Stephenson, T. Q., Dunn, C. W., & Martindale, M. Q. (2015). Par system components are asymmetrically localized in ectodermal epithelia, But not during early development in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. EvoDevo, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13227-015-0014-6