Zoological letters

Ancestral mesodermal reorganization and evolution of the vertebrate head.

PMID 26605074


The vertebrate head is characterized by unsegmented head mesoderm the evolutionary origin of which remains enigmatic. The head mesoderm is derived from the rostral part of the dorsal mesoderm, which is regionalized anteroposteriorly during gastrulation. The basal chordate amphioxus resembles vertebrates due to the presence of somites, but it lacks unsegmented head mesoderm. Gastrulation in amphioxus occurs by simple invagination with little mesodermal involution, whereas in vertebrates gastrulation is organized by massive cell movements, such as involution, convergence and extension, and cell migration. To identify key developmental events in the evolution of the vertebrate head mesoderm, we compared anterior/posterior (A/P) patterning mechanisms of the dorsal mesoderm in amphioxus and vertebrates. The dorsal mesodermal genes gsc, bra, and delta are expressed in similar patterns in early embryos of both animals, but later in development, these expression domains become anteroposteriorly segregated only in vertebrates. Suppression of mesodermal involution in vertebrate embryos by inhibition of convergence and extension recapitulates amphioxus-like dorsal mesoderm formation. Reorganization of ancient mesoderm was likely involved in the evolution of the vertebrate head.