Cyclostome embryology and early evolutionary history of vertebrates

Integr Comp Biol. 2007 Sep;47(3):329-37. doi: 10.1093/icb/icm022. Epub 2007 Jun 27.


Modern agnathans include only two groups, the lampreys and the hagfish, that collectively comprise the group Cyclostomata. Although accumulating molecular data support the cyclostomes as a monophyletic group, there remain some unsettled questions regarding the evolutionary relationships of these animals in that they differ greatly in anatomical and developmental patterns and in their life histories. In this review, we summarize recent developmental data on the lamprey and discuss some questions related to vertebrate evolutionary development raised by the limited information available on hagfish embryos. Comparison of the lamprey and gnathostome developmental patterns suggests some plesiomorphic traits of vertebrates that would have already been established in the most recent common ancestor of the vertebrates. Understanding hagfish development will further clarify the, as yet, unrecognized ancestral characters that either the lampreys or hagfishes may have lost. We stress the immediate importance of hagfish embryology in the determination of the most plausible scenario for the early history of vertebrate evolution, by addressing questions about the origins of the neural crest, thyroid, and adenohypophysis as examples.