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Biology open

Short germ insects utilize both the ancestral and derived mode of Polycomb group-mediated epigenetic silencing of Hox genes.


PMID 25948756

Abstract

In insect species that undergo long germ segmentation, such as Drosophila, all segments are specified simultaneously at the early blastoderm stage. As embryogenesis progresses, the expression boundaries of Hox genes are established by repression of gap genes, which is subsequently replaced by Polycomb group (PcG) silencing. At present, however, it is not known whether patterning occurs this way in a more ancestral (short germ) mode of embryogenesis, where segments are added gradually during posterior elongation. In this study, two members of the PcG family, Enhancer of zeste (E(z)) and Suppressor of zeste 12 (Su(z)12), were analyzed in the short germ cricket, Gryllus bimaculatus. Results suggest that although stepwise negative regulation by gap and PcG genes is present in anterior members of the Hox cluster, it does not account for regulation of two posterior Hox genes, abdominal-A (abd-A) and Abdominal-B (Abd-B). Instead, abd-A and Abd-B are predominantly regulated by PcG genes, which is the mode present in vertebrates. These findings suggest that an intriguing transition of the PcG-mediated silencing of Hox genes may have occurred during animal evolution. The ancestral bilaterian state may have resembled the current vertebrate mode of regulation, where PcG-mediated silencing of Hox genes occurs before their expression is initiated and is responsible for the establishment of individual expression domains. Then, during insect evolution, the repression by transcription factors may have been acquired in anterior Hox genes of short germ insects, while PcG silencing was maintained in posterior Hox genes.