Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Evolution of Tetrapod Limbs

An autopodial-like pattern of Hox expression in the fins of a basal actinopterygian fish. 2007. M.C. Davis, et al. Nature 447: 473-476.

Anterior to the left; distal to top. HoxD expression in Polyodon supports the notion that late-phase HoxD expression is primitive to tetrapods and to osteichthyes in general. Red bars denote: a, acquisition of late-phase HoxD expression; b, loss of non-metapterygial radials; c, loss of the dermal fin fold; d, loss of the metapterygium; e, loss of late-phase HoxD expression. Blue cartoons depict conserved late-phase HoxD seen in Polyodon and tetrapods (here represented by the hind limb of the chicken, Gallus).

Abstract: Comparative analyses of Hox gene expression and regulation in teleost fish and tetrapods support the long-entrenched notion that the distal region of tetrapod limbs, containing the wrist, ankle and digits, is an evolutionary novelty.

Data from fossils support the notion that the unique features of tetrapod limbs were assembled over evolutionary time in the paired fins of fish.

The challenge in linking developmental and palaeontological approaches has been that developmental data for fins and limbs compare only highly derived teleosts and tetrapods; what is lacking are data from extant taxa that retain greater portions of the fin skeletal morphology considered primitive to all bony fish. Here, we report on the expression and function of genes implicated in the origin of the autopod in a basal actinopterygian, Polyodon spathula.

Polyodon exhibits a late-phase, inverted collinear expression of 5' HoxD genes, a pattern of expression long considered a developmental hallmark of the autopod and shown in tetrapods to be controlled by a 'digit enhancer' region. These data show that aspects of the development of the autopod are primitive to tetrapods and that the origin of digits entailed the redeployment of ancient patterns of gene activity.