CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Evolution of vertebrates has been intimately linked to the advent of the neural crest, a migratory and multipotent cell population that gives rise to many defining characters of vertebrates, including a well-defined head and peripheral ganglia. These multipotent progenitor cells form at the border of neural and non-neural ectoderm in vertebrate embryos. The regulatory interactions predicted to underlie neural crest formation involve inductive signals (e.g. Wnt, BMP, FGF) that establish the neura
l plate border, by up-regulation of border specifier genes like Msx1/2, Pax3/7, and Zic. These border genes in turn regulate neural crest specifier genes like Slug/Snail, FoxDS and the SoxE family. Finally, neural crest specifiers turn on specific downstream targets that render the neural crest migratory and multipotent. The goal of the proposed study is to address whether the neural crest gene regulatory network of traditional vertebrate models is conserved to the base of vertebrates. Data from
non-vertebrate chordates suggest this network is a vertebrate novelty and that neural crest evolution involved cooption of several transcriptional regulators to the neural plate border of the vertebrate ancestor. We will compare the neural crest gene regulatory network of traditional vertebrate models with that of sea lamprey, jawless fish that represent the most primitive extant vertebrates. Our preliminary results suggest that many neural crest derivatives, early migratory routes and some com
ponents of the neural crest gene network are conserved in lamprey. We will test for conservation at the level of deployment of these molecules at the neural plate border as well as ability to carry out similar functions. To explore events that led to the evolution of this important cell type and thus to the origin of vertebrate features, this proposal will address the following specific aims: 1) Examine whether key genes that function as neural plate border and neural crest specifiers are conser
ved in sequence and distribution between jawless and jawed vertebrates. 2) Establish connections within the network by morpholino-mediated knock-down of selected transcription factors; establish epistasis by examining the consequences on expression of other genes in the network and their ability to rescue the loss-of-function phenotype. 3) Isolate regulatory regions of amphioxus and lamprey 'specifier genes.'