© 2016 Dylus et al.Background: The evolutionary mechanisms involved in shaping complex gene regulatory networks (GRN) that encode for morphologically similar structures in distantly related animals remain elusive. In this context, echinoderm larval skeletons found in brittle stars and sea urchins provide an ideal system. Here, we characterize for the first time the development of the larval skeleton in the ophiuroid Amphiura filiformis and compare it systematically with its counterpart in sea urchin. Results: We show that ophiuroids and euechinoids, that split at least 480 Million years ago (Mya), have remarkable similarities in tempo and mode of skeletal development. Despite morphological and ontological similarities, our high-resolution study of the dynamics of genetic regulatory states in A. filiformis highlights numerous differences in the architecture of their underlying GRNs. Importantly, the A.filiformis pplx, the closest gene to the sea urchin double negative gate (DNG) repressor pmar1, fails to drive the skeletogenic program in sea urchin, showing important evolutionary differences in protein function. hesC, the second repressor of the DNG, is co-expressed with most of the genes that are repressed in sea urchin, indicating the absence of direct repression of tbr, ets1/2, and delta in A. filiformis. Furthermore, the absence of expression in later stages of brittle star skeleton development of key regulatory genes, such as foxb and dri, shows significantly different regulatory states. Conclusion: Our data fill up an important gap in the picture of larval mesoderm in echinoderms and allows us to explore the evolutionary implications relative to the recently established phylogeny of echinoderm classes. In light of recent studies on other echinoderms, our data highlight a high evolutionary plasticity of the same nodes throughout evolution of echinoderm skeletogenesis. Finally, gene duplication, protein function diversification, and cis-regulatory element evolution all contributed to shape the regulatory program for larval skeletogenesis in different branches of echinoderms.
Dylus, D. V., Czarkwiani, A., Stångberg, J., Ortega-Martinez, O., Dupont, S., & Oliveri, P. (2016). Large-scale gene expression study in the ophiuroid Amphiura filiformis provides insights into evolution of gene regulatory networks. EvoDevo, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13227-015-0039-x