An epidermis surrounds all vertebrates, forming a water barrier between the external environment and the internal space of the organism. In the zebrafish, the embryonic epidermis consists of an outer enveloping layer (EVL) and an inner basal layer that have distinct embryonic origins. Differentiation of the EVL requires the maternal effect gene poky/ikk1 in EVL cells prior to establishment of the basal layer. This requirement is transient and maternal Ikk1 is sufficient to allow establishment of the EVL and formation of normal skin in adults. Similar to the requirement for Ikk1 in mouse epidermis, EVL cells in poky mutants fail to exit the cell cycle or express specific markers of differentiation. In spite of the similarity in phenotype, the molecular requirement for Ikk1 is different between mouse and zebrafish. Unlike the mouse, EVL differentiation requires functioning Poky/Ikk1 kinase activity but does not require the HLH domain. Previous work suggested that the EVL was a transient embryonic structure, and that maturation of the epidermis required replacement of the EVL with cells from the basal layer. We show here that the EVL is not lost during embryogenesis but persists to larval stages. Our results show that while the requirement for poky/ikk1 is conserved, the differences in molecular activity indicate that diversification of an epithelial differentiation program has allowed at least two developmental modes of establishing a multilayered epidermis in vertebrates.
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