Agnathan or jawless vertebrates, such as lampreys, occupy a critical phylogenetic position between the gnathostome or jawed vertebrates and the cephalochordates, represented by amphioxus. In order to gain insight into the evolution of the vertebrate head, we have cloned and characterized a homolog of the head-specific gene Otx from the lamprey Petromyzon marinus. This lamprey Otx gene is a clear phylogenetic outgroup to both the gnathostome Otx1 and Otx2 genes. Like its gnathostome counterparts, lamprey Otx is expressed throughout the presumptive forebrain and midbrain. Together, these results indicate that the divergence of Otx1 and Otx2 took place after the gnathostome/agnathan divergence and does not correlate with the origin of the vertebrate brain. Intriguingly, Otx is also expressed in the cephalic neural crest cells as well as mesenchymal and endodermal components of the first pharyngeal arch in lampreys, providing molecular evidence of homology with the gnathostome mandibular arch and insights into the evolution of the gnathostome jaw.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.