The basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor Twist is highly conserved from Drosophila to vertebrates and plays a major role in mesoderm specification of triploblasts. The presence of a Twist homologue in diploblasts such as the cnidarian Podocoryne carnea raises questions on the evolution of mesoderm, the third cell layer characteristic for triploblasts. Podocoryne Twist is expressed in the early embryo until the myoepithelial cells of the larva differentiate and then again during medusa development. There, the gene is detected first when the myoepithelial cells of the polyp dedifferentiate to form the medusa bud and later Twist is found transiently in the entocodon, a mesoderm-like cell layer which differentiates into the smooth muscle and striated muscle of the bell. On the other hand, in later bud stages and the medusa, expression is seen where non-muscle tissues differentiate. Experimental analysis of in vitro transdifferentiation and regeneration demonstrates that Twist activity is not needed when isolated striated muscle regenerate medusa organs. Developmental roles of Twist are discussed with respect to early animal evolution from a common ancestor of cnidarians and bilaterians.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.