In the past few years, the small spotted dogfish has become the primary model for analyses of early development in chondrichthyans. Its phylogenetic position makes it an ideal outgroup to reconstruct the ancestral gnathostome state by comparisons with established vertebrate model organisms. It is also a suitable model to address the molecular bases of lineage-specific diversifications such as the rise of extraembryonic tissues, as it is endowed with a distinct extraembryonic yolk sac and yolk duct ensuring exchanges between the embryo and a large undivided vitelline mass. Experimental or functional approaches such as cell marking or in ovo pharmacological treatments are emerging in this species, but recent analyses of early development in this species have primarily concentrated on molecular descriptions. These data show the dogfish embryo exhibits early polarities reflecting the dorso-ventral axis of amphibians and teleosts at early blastula stages and an atypical anamniote molecular pattern during gastrulation, independently of the presence of extraembryonic tissues. They also highlight unexpected relationships with amniotes, with a strikingly similar Nodal-dependent regional pattern in the extraembryonic endoderm. In this species, extraembryonic cell fates seem to be determined by differential cell behaviors, which lead to cell allocation in extraembryonic and embryonic tissues, rather than by cell regional identity. We suggest that this may exemplify an early evolutionary step in the rise of extraembryonic tissues, possibly related to quantitative differences in the signaling activities, which shape the early embryo. These results highlight the conservation across gnathostomes of a highly constrained core genetic program controlling early patterning. This conservation may be obscured in some lineages by taxa-specific diversifications such as specializations of extraembryonic nutritive tissues.
© 2012 The Authors. Journal of Anatomy © 2012 Anatomical Society.