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      Hedgehog signalling controls eye degeneration in blind cavefish.

      Nature

      Animals, Apoptosis, Blindness, embryology, genetics, metabolism, pathology, Darkness, Environment, Eye, cytology, Fishes, Gene Expression Regulation, Hedgehog Proteins, In Situ Hybridization, Lens, Crystalline, Molecular Sequence Data, RNA, Messenger, Signal Transduction, Trans-Activators

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          Abstract

          Hedgehog (Hh) proteins are responsible for critical signalling events during development but their evolutionary roles remain to be determined. Here we show that hh gene expression at the embryonic midline controls eye degeneration in blind cavefish. We use the teleost Astyanax mexicanus, a single species with an eyed surface-dwelling form (surface fish) and many blind cave forms (cavefish), to study the evolution of eye degeneration. Small eye primordia are formed during cavefish embryogenesis, which later arrest in development, degenerate and sink into the orbits. Eye degeneration is caused by apoptosis of the embryonic lens, and transplanting a surface fish embryonic lens into a cavefish optic cup can restore a complete eye. Here we show that sonic hedgehog (shh) and tiggy-winkle hedgehog (twhh) gene expression is expanded along the anterior embryonic midline in several different cavefish populations. The expansion of hh signalling results in hyperactivation of downstream genes, lens apoptosis and arrested eye growth and development. These features can be mimicked in surface fish by twhh and/or shh overexpression, supporting the role of hh signalling in the evolution of cavefish eye regression.

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          Most cited references 19

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          Conservation of the hedgehog/patched signaling pathway from flies to mice: induction of a mouse patched gene by Hedgehog.

          The signaling protein Hedgehog (Hh) controls cell fate and polarizes tissues in both flies and vertebrates. In flies, Hh exerts its effects by opposing the function of a novel transmembrane protein, Patched, while also locally inducing patched (ptc) transcription. We have identified a mouse homolog of ptc which in many tissues is transcribed near cells making either Sonic or Indian hedgehog. In addition, ectopic Sonic hedgehog expression in the mouse central nervous system induces ptc transcription. As in flies, mouse ptc transcription appears to be indicative of hedgehog signal reception. The results support the existence of a conserved signaling pathway used for pattern formation in insects and mammals.
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            Biochemical evidence that patched is the Hedgehog receptor.

            The protein Sonic hedgehog (Shh) is essential for a variety of patterning events during development. It is the signal from the notochord that induces ventral cell fate in the neural tube and somites, and is the polarizing signal for patterning of the anterior-posterior axis of the developing limb bud. Because of these and other inductive functions of Shh, it is important to understand how the Hedgehog (Hh) signal is received by the target cells. Here we describe binding studies using labelled Shh that strongly suggest that the Hh receptor is encoded by patched (ptc), a gene first identified in genetic screens in Drosophila.
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              Cavefish as a model system in evolutionary developmental biology.

              The Mexican tetra Astyanax mexicanus has many of the favorable attributes that have made the zebrafish a model system in developmental biology. The existence of eyed surface (surface fish) and blind cave (cavefish) dwelling forms in Astyanax also provides an attractive system for studying the evolution of developmental mechanisms. The polarity of evolutionary changes and the environmental conditions leading to the cavefish phenotype are known with certainty, and several different cavefish populations have evolved constructive and regressive changes independently. The constructive changes include enhancement of the feeding apparatus (jaws, taste buds, and teeth) and the mechanosensory system of cranial neuromasts. The homeobox gene Prox 1, which is expressed in the expanded taste buds and cranial neuromasts, is one of the genes involved in the constructive changes in sensory organ development. The regressive changes include loss of pigmentation and eye degeneration. Although adult cavefish lack functional eyes, small eye primordia are formed during embryogenesis, which later arrest in development, degenerate, and sink into the orbit. Apoptosis and lens signaling to other eye parts, such as the cornea, iris, and retina, result in the arrest of eye development and ultimate optic degeneration. Accordingly, an eye with restored cornea, iris, and retinal photoreceptor cells is formed when a surface fish lens is transplanted into a cavefish optic cup, indicating that cavefish optic tissues have conserved the ability to respond to lens signaling. Genetic analysis indicates that multiple genes regulate eye degeneration, and molecular studies suggest that Pax6 may be one of the genes controlling cavefish eye degeneration. Further studies of the Astyanax system will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of developmental mechanisms in vertebrates.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                15483612
                10.1038/nature02864

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