Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Japan.
Amphioxus has neither elaborated brains nor definitive sensory organs, so that the two may have evolved in a mutually affecting manner and given rise to the forms seen in extant vertebrates. Clarifying the developmental and functional aspects of the amphioxus sensory system is thus pivotal for inferring the early evolution of vertebrates. Morphological studies have identified and classified amphioxus sensory cells; however, it is completely unknown whether the morphological classification makes sense in functional and evolutionary terms. Molecular markers, such as gene expression, are therefore indispensable for investigating the developmental and functional aspects of amphioxus sensory cells. This article reviews recent molecular studies on amphioxus sensory cells. Increasing evidence shows that the non-neural ectoderm of amphioxus can be subdivided into molecularly distinct subdomains by the combinatorial code of developmental cues involving the RA-dependent Hox code, suggesting that amphioxus epithelial sensory cells developed along positional information. This study focuses particularly on research involving the molecular phylogeny and expression of the seven-transmembrane, G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) genes and discusses the usefulness of this information for characterizing the sensory cells of amphioxus.
Keywords: vertebrate origins, sensory system, genome duplication, GPCR genes