Int J Biol Sci 2007; 3(6):356-364. doi:10.7150/ijbs.3.356

Research Paper

The Amphioxus SoxB Family: Implications for the Evolution of Vertebrate Placodes

Daniel Meulemans, Marianne Bronner-Fraser

Division of Biology, Beckman Institute MC 139-74, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA

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Meulemans D, Bronner-Fraser M. The Amphioxus SoxB Family: Implications for the Evolution of Vertebrate Placodes. Int J Biol Sci 2007; 3(6):356-364. doi:10.7150/ijbs.3.356. Available from

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Cranial placodes are regions of thickened ectoderm that give rise to sense organs and ganglia in the vertebrate head. Homologous structures are proposed to exist in urochordates, but have not been found in cephalochordates, suggesting the first chordates lacked placodes. SoxB genes are expressed in discrete subsets of vertebrate placodes. To investigate how placodes arose and diversified in the vertebrate lineage we isolated the complete set of SoxB genes from amphioxus and analyzed their expression in embryos and larvae. We find that while amphioxus possesses a single SoxB2 gene, it has three SoxB1 paralogs. Like vertebrate SoxB1 genes, one of these paralogs is expressed in non-neural ectoderm destined to give rise to sensory cells. When considered in the context of other amphioxus placode marker orthologs, amphioxus SoxB1 expression suggests a diversity of sensory cell types utilizing distinct placode-type gene programs was present in the first chordates. Our data supports a model for placode evolution and diversification whereby the full complement of vertebrate placodes evolved by serial recruitment of distinct sensory cell specification programs to anterior pre-placodal ectoderm.

Keywords: Evolution, development, chordates, vertebrates, placodes, amphioxus