Ventralization of an indirect developing hemichordate by NiCl2 suggests a conserved mechanism of dorso-ventral (D/V) patterning in Ambulacraria (hemichordates and echinoderms)
Eric Roettinger and Mark Q. Martindale
One of the earliest steps in embryonic development is the establishment of the future body axes. Morphological and molecular data place the Ambulacraria (echinoderms and hemichordates) within the Deuterostomia and as the sister taxon to chordates. Extensive work over the last decades in echinoid (sea urchins) echinoderms has led to the characterization of gene regulatory networks underlying germ layer specification and axis formation during embryogenesis. However, with the exception of recent studies from a direct developing hemichordate (Saccoglossus kowalevskii), very little is known about the molecular mechanism underlying early hemichordate development. Unlike echinoids, indirect developing hemichordates retain the larval body axes and major larval tissues after metamorphosis into the adult worm. In order to gain insight into dorso-ventral (D/V) patterning, we used nickel chloride (NiCl2), a potent ventralizing agent on echinoderm embryos, on the indirect developing enteropneust hemichordate, Ptychodera flava. Our present study shows that NiCl(2) disrupts the D/V axis and induces formation of a circumferential mouth when treated before the onset of gastrulation. Molecular analysis, using newly isolated tissue-specific markers, shows that the ventral ectoderm is expanded at expense of dorsal ectoderm in treated embryos, but has little effect on germ layer or anterior-posterior markers. The resulting ventralized phenotype, the effective dose, and the NiCl2 sensitive response period of Ptychodera flava, is very similar to the effects of nickel on embryonic development described in larval echinoderms. These strong similarities allow one to speculate that a NiCl2 sensitive pathway involved in dorso-ventral patterning may be shared between echinoderms, hemichordates and a putative ambulacrarian ancestor. Furthermore, nickel treatments ventralize the direct developing hemichordate, S. kowalevskii indicating that a common pathway patterns both larval and adult body plans of the ambulacrarian ancestor and provides insight in to the origin of the chordate body plan.