Expression of sympathetic nervous system genes in Lamprey suggests their recruitment for specification of a new vertebrate feature

PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26543. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026543. Epub 2011 Oct 27.


The sea lamprey is a basal, jawless vertebrate that possesses many neural crest derivatives, but lacks jaws and sympathetic ganglia. This raises the possibility that the factors involved in sympathetic neuron differentiation were either a gnathostome innovation or already present in lamprey, but serving different purposes. To distinguish between these possibilities, we isolated lamprey homologues of transcription factors associated with peripheral ganglion formation and examined their deployment in lamprey embryos. We further performed DiI labeling of the neural tube combined with neuronal markers to test if neural crest-derived cells migrate to and differentiate in sites colonized by sympathetic ganglia in jawed vertebrates. Consistent with previous anatomical data in adults, our results in lamprey embryos reveal that neural crest cells fail to migrate ventrally to form sympathetic ganglia, though they do form dorsal root ganglia adjacent to the neural tube. Interestingly, however, paralogs of the battery of transcription factors that mediate sympathetic neuron differentiation (dHand, Ascl1 and Phox2b) are present in the lamprey genome and expressed in various sites in the embryo, but fail to overlap in any ganglionic structures. This raises the intriguing possibility that they may have been recruited during gnathostome evolution to a new function in a neural crest derivative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Ganglia
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Lampreys / embryology
  • Neural Crest / cytology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / cytology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / embryology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors
  • Vertebrates / genetics


  • Transcription Factors