Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 112:803 (2015)

Deep conservation of wrist and digit enhancers in fish.

Gehrke AR1, Schneider I2, de la Calle-Mustienes E3, Tena JJ3, Gomez-Marin C3, Chandran M1, Nakamura T1, Braasch I4, Postlethwait JH4, Gómez-Skarmeta JL3, Shubin NH5.


There is no obvious morphological counterpart of the autopod (wrist/ankle and digits) in living fishes. Comparative molecular data may provide insight into understanding both the homology of elements and the evolutionary developmental mechanisms behind the fin to limb transition. In mouse limbs the autopod is built by a "late" phase of Hoxd and Hoxa gene expression, orchestrated by a set of enhancers located at the 5' end of each cluster. Despite a detailed mechanistic understanding of mouse limb development, interpretation of Hox expression patterns and their regulation in fish has spawned multiple hypotheses as to the origin and function of "autopod" enhancers throughout evolution. Using phylogenetic footprinting, epigenetic profiling, and transgenic reporters, we have identified and functionally characterized hoxD and hoxA enhancers in the genomes of zebrafish and the spotted gar, Lepisosteus oculatus, a fish lacking the whole genome duplication of teleosts. Gar and zebrafish "autopod" enhancers drive expression in the distal portion of developing zebrafish pectoral fins, and respond to the same functional cues as their murine orthologs. Moreover, gar enhancers drive reporter gene expression in both the wrist and digits of mouse embryos in patterns that are nearly indistinguishable from their murine counterparts. These functional genomic data support the hypothesis that the distal radials of bony fish are homologous to the wrist and/or digits of tetrapods.

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