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Abstract

It has been demonstrated recently that hagfishes, one of two groups of extant jawless vertebrates, have cartilaginous vertebral elements. Embryological and gene expression analyses have also shown that this group of animals develops a sclerotome, the potential primordium of the axial skeleton. However, it has not been shown unequivocally that the hagfish sclerotome truly differentiates into cartilage, because access to late-stage embryos and information about the cartilaginous extracellular matrix (ECM) are lacking for these animals. Here we investigated the expression patterns of the biglycan/decorin (BGN/DCN) gene in the inshore hagfish, Eptatretus burgeri. The homologue of this gene encodes the major noncollagenous component of the cartilaginous ECM among gnathostomes. We clearly identified the expression of this gene in adult vertebral tissues and in embryonic mesenchymal cells on the ventral aspect of the notochord. Taking into account that the sclerotome in the gnathostomes expresses BGN/DCN gene during the chondrogenesis, it is highly expected the hagfish BGN/DCN-positive mesenchymal cells are derived from the sclerotomes. We propose that hagfishes and gnathostomes share conserved developmental mechanisms not only in their somite differentiation, but also in chondrogenesis of their vertebral elements. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 320B:129–139, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.