In order to understand evolution of the endocrine systems in chordates, study of the evolution of the nuclear receptors (NRs), which mediate the cellular responses to several key hormones, is of major interest. Thanks to the sequencing of several complete genomes of different species in the three chordate phyla, we now have a global view of the evolution of the nuclear receptors gene content in this lineage. The challenge is now to understand how the function of the different receptors evolved during the invertebrate-chordate to vertebrate transition by studying the functional properties of the NRs using comparative approaches in different species. The best available model system to answer this question is the cephalochordate amphioxus which has a NR gene complement close to that of the chordate ancestor. Here we review the available data concerning the function of the amphioxus NRs, and we discuss some evolutionary scenarios that can be drawn from these results.
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