One of the striking findings of comparative developmental genetics was that expression patterns of core transcription factors are extraordinarily conserved in bilaterians. However, it remains unclear whether cis-regulatory elements of their target genes also exhibit common signatures associated with conserved embryonic fields. To address this question, we focused on genes that are active in the anterior neuroectoderm and non-neural ectoderm of the ascidian Ciona intestinalis. Following the dissection of a prototypic anterior placodal enhancer, we searched all genomic conserved non-coding elements for duplicated motifs around genes showing anterior neuroectodermal expression. Strikingly, we identified an over-represented pentamer motif corresponding to the binding site of the homeodomain protein OTX, which plays a pivotal role in the anterior development of all bilaterian species. Using an in vivo reporter gene assay, we observed that 10 of 23 candidate cis-regulatory elements containing duplicated OTX motifs are active in the anterior neuroectoderm, thus showing that this cis-regulatory signature is predictive of neuroectodermal enhancers. These results show that a common cis-regulatory signature corresponding to K50-Paired homeodomain transcription factors is found in non-coding sequences flanking anterior neuroectodermal genes in chordate embryos. Thus, field-specific selector genes impose architectural constraints in the form of combinations of short tags on their target enhancers. This could account for the strong evolutionary conservation of the regulatory elements controlling field-specific selector genes responsible for body plan formation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology
- Cancer Research