It will take place on Wednesday the 30th March at 14h in the salle Trégouboff. The title is "Roles of retinoic acid signaling in regulating nervous system development in the cephalochordate amphioxus (Branchiostoma lanceolatum)".
The nervous system provides internal interconnection to multi-cellular animals. It enables them to integrate the physiological activities of their different components into one functional entity that can successfully interact with its environment. The evolution and development of complex nervous systems is one of the most fascinating questions of biological research. In order to generate a diversity of neural cell types and neural connections, metazoan animals deploy a surprisingly small number of instructive developmental signals, which crosstalk in a dynamic manner to induce a spatial pattern of cell identities and behaviors.
Retinoic acid (RA) is a small diffusible signaling molecule derived from vitamin A that contributes to the axial patterning of the vertebrate central nervous system and functions as a crucial regulator of neuronal differentiation. Moreover, RA signals have been shown to affect the neurotransmitter phenotype of specific neuronal subsets and play distinct roles during the morphogenesis of the peripheral nervous system from cranial placodes and neural crest. However, while the role of RA signaling in the regionalization of the central nervous system has been extensively studied, much less is known about its actions in cranial placodes and neural crest derivatives, in the establishment of different neurotransmitter identities, or how these functions might have evolved.
Albeit initially believed to be vertebrate-specific, a growing body of evidence now implicates RA signaling in the nervous system development of various distant taxa, such as cnidarians, gastropod mollusks and invertebrate chordates. In particular, the slow evolving cephalochordates, commonly called amphioxus, are known to possess a vertebrate-like RA signaling system. The amphioxus genome has retained a high degree of synteny with vertebrate genomes and exhibits relatively little losses or independent duplications of developmental genes. Accordingly, amphioxus embryogenesis and morphology also display remarkable similarity with vertebrates, which allows the identification of ancestral as well as newly derived traits and makes these animals attractive models for comparative research.
This study aims at providing a detailed description of the development of different neural cell populations in the central and peripheral nervous system of amphioxus and explores the roles played by RA signaling during this process. To this end, gene expression analyses and immunohistochemistry were used, in order to identify distinct subsets of neural progenitors and neural cell types. Furthermore, RA signaling levels were manipulated pharmacologically at different stages of amphioxus development, to assess their effects on the formation of identified neural cell populations as well as on proliferation and apoptosis patterns. The results presented in this work reveal the presence of distinct neural cell populations in amphioxus and highlight their likely phylogenetic relationships with corresponding structures in other chordates. In addition, several context-dependent functions of RA signaling were documented, which include the generation of discrete boundaries in the central nervous system and ectoderm of amphioxus embryos as well as the cell type-specific regulation of late neural progenitor development in the peripheral nervous system. The observed roles of RA signaling in the amphioxus neural tube and peripheral nervous system correspond well to those reported for the vertebrate hindbrain and cranial placodes, supporting the current hypothesis of a close evolutionary relationship between these structures and suggesting that the involvement of RA signals in their development is a conserved feature of chordates.