The lamprey: a jawless vertebrate model system for examining origin of the neural crest and other vertebrate traits

Differentiation. Jan-Feb 2014;87(1-2):44-51. doi: 10.1016/j.diff.2014.02.001. Epub 2014 Feb 20.


Lampreys are a group of jawless fishes that serve as an important point of comparison for studies of vertebrate evolution. Lampreys and hagfishes are agnathan fishes, the cyclostomes, which sit at a crucial phylogenetic position as the only living sister group of the jawed vertebrates. Comparisons between cyclostomes and jawed vertebrates can help identify shared derived (i.e. synapomorphic) traits that might have been inherited from ancestral early vertebrates, if unlikely to have arisen convergently by chance. One example of a uniquely vertebrate trait is the neural crest, an embryonic tissue that produces many cell types crucial to vertebrate features, such as the craniofacial skeleton, pigmentation of the skin, and much of the peripheral nervous system (Gans and Northcutt, 1983). Invertebrate chordates arguably lack unambiguous neural crest homologs, yet have cells with some similarities, making comparisons with lampreys and jawed vertebrates essential for inferring characteristics of development in early vertebrates, and how they may have evolved from nonvertebrate chordates. Here we review recent research on cyclostome neural crest development, including research on lamprey gene regulatory networks and differentiated neural crest fates.

Keywords: Lamprey; Neural crest; Neural crest derivatives; Vertebrate evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Jaw / embryology*
  • Lampreys / embryology
  • Lampreys / growth & development*
  • Neural Crest / embryology
  • Neural Crest / growth & development*
  • Phylogeny
  • Vertebrates