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Int J Biol Sci 2006; 2(2):38-47. doi:10.7150/ijbs.2.38

Review

Retinoic acid signaling and the evolution of chordates

Ferdinand Marlétaz1, Linda Z. Holland2, Vincent Laudet1, Michael Schubert1

1. Laboratoire de Biologie Moléculaire de la Cellule, CNRS UMR5161/INRA 1237/ENS Lyon, IFR128 BioSciences/Lyon-Gerland, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, 46 Allée d'Italie, 69364 Lyon Cedex 07, France
2. Marine Biology Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0202, USA

Abstract

In chordates, which comprise urochordates, cephalochordates and vertebrates, the vitamin A-derived morphogen retinoic acid (RA) has a pivotal role during development. Altering levels of endogenous RA signaling during early embryology leads to severe malformations, mainly due to incorrect positional codes specifying the embryonic anteroposterior body axis. In this review, we present our current understanding of the RA signaling pathway and its roles during chordate development. In particular, we focus on the conserved roles of RA and its downstream mediators, the Hox genes, in conveying positional patterning information to different embryonic tissues, such as the endoderm and the central nervous system. We find that some of the control mechanisms governing RA-mediated patterning are well conserved between vertebrates and invertebrate chordates, such as the cephalochordate amphioxus. In contrast, outside the chordates, evidence for roles of RA signaling is scarce and the evolutionary origin of the RA pathway itself thus remains elusive. In sum, to fully understand the evolutionary history of the RA pathway, future research should focus on identification and study of components of the RA signaling cascade in non-chordate deuterostomes (such as hemichordates and echinoderms) and other invertebrates, such as insects, mollusks and cnidarians.

Keywords: amphioxus, anteroposterior patterning, Branchiostoma, deuterostomes, Hox, invertebrate-to-vertebrate transition, phylogeny

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How to cite this article:
Marlétaz F, Holland LZ, Laudet V, Schubert M. Retinoic acid signaling and the evolution of chordates. Int J Biol Sci 2006; 2(2):38-47. doi:10.7150/ijbs.2.38. Available from http://www.ijbs.com/v02p0038.htm