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Developmental atlas of appendicularian Oikopleura dioica actins provides new insights into the evolution of the notochord and the cardio-paraxial muscle in chordates

Almazán, Alba, Ferrández-Roldán, Alfonso, Albalat, Ricard, Cañestro, Cristian
Developmental biology 2019 v.448 no.2 pp. 260-270
Urochordata, actin, ancestry, gene duplication, genes, genomics, locomotion, muscles, myosin, neurons, phylogeny, surveys, tail
Locomotion by tail beating powered by a system of bilateral paraxial muscle and notochord is likely one of the key evolutionary innovations that facilitated the origin and radiation of chordates. The innovation of paraxial muscle was accompanied by gene duplications in stem chordates that gave rise to muscular actins from cytoplasmic ancestral forms, which acquired contractile capability thanks to the recruitment of the myosin motor-machinery. To better understand the role of actin diversification during the evolution of chordates, in this work we have characterized the complete actin catalogue of the appendicularian Oikopleura dioica, an urochordate that maintains a chordate body plan throughout its life, including the notochord in a muscled tail that confers an active free-living pelagic style. Our genomic survey, phylogenetic analyses and Diagnostic-Actin-Values (DAVs) reveal that O. dioica has four muscular actins (ActnM1–4) and three cytoplasmic actins (ActnC1–3), most of which originated by independent gene duplications during the evolution of the appendicularian lineage. Detailed developmental expression atlas of the complete actin catalogue of O. dioica reveals differences in the temporal-regulation and tissue-specificity of different actin paralogs, suggesting complex processes of subfunctionalization during the evolution of urochordates. Our results suggest the presence of a “cardio-paraxial” muscular actin at least in the last common ancestor of Olfactores (i.e. vertebrates+urochordates). Our results reveal highly dynamic tissue-specific expression patterns for some cytoplasmic actins, including the notochord, ciliated cells and neurons with axonal projections, which challenge the classic housekeeping notion ascribed to these genes. Considering that previous work had demonstrated the existence of notochord-specific actins in cephalochordates, the tissue-specific expression of two cytoplasmic actins in the notochord of O. dioica suggests that this pattern plausibly reflects the ancestral condition of chordates, and provides new insights to better understand the evolutionary origin of the notochord.