Insights into the urbilaterian brain: conserved genetic patterning mechanisms in insect and vertebrate brain development

Heredity (Edinb). 2005 May;94(5):465-77. doi: 10.1038/sj.hdy.6800664.


Recent molecular genetic analyses of Drosophila melanogaster and mouse central nervous system (CNS) development revealed strikingly similar genetic patterning mechanisms in the formation of the insect and vertebrate brain. Thus, in both insects and vertebrates, the correct regionalization and neuronal identity of the anterior brain anlage is controlled by the cephalic gap genes otd/Otx and ems/Emx, whereas members of the Hox genes are involved in patterning of the posterior brain. A third intermediate domain on the anteroposterior axis of the vertebrate and insect brain is characterized by the expression of the Pax2/5/8 orthologues, suggesting that the tripartite ground plans of the protostome and deuterostome brains share a common evolutionary origin. Furthermore, cross-phylum rescue experiments demonstrate that insect and mammalian members of the otd/Otx and ems/Emx gene families can functionally replace each other in embryonic brain patterning. Homologous genes involved in dorsoventral regionalization of the CNS in vertebrates and insects show remarkably similar patterning and orientation with respect to the neurogenic region (ventral in insects and dorsal in vertebrates). This supports the notion that a dorsoventral body axis inversion occurred after the separation of protostome and deuterostome lineages in evolution. Taken together, these findings demonstrate conserved genetic patterning mechanisms in insect and vertebrate brain development and suggest a monophyletic origin of the brain in protostome and deuterostome bilaterians.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / genetics*
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology
  • Insecta / embryology*
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Insecta / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Vertebrates / embryology*
  • Vertebrates / genetics
  • Vertebrates / metabolism


  • Homeodomain Proteins