Otx genes in evolution: are they involved in instructing the vertebrate brain morphology?


Prof. Antonio Simeone, MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, 4th floor, New Hunt's House, King's College London, Guy's Campus, London Bridge, London SE1 1UL, UK. Tel.: +(44) 020 7848 6536; fax: +(44) 020 7848 6550; e-mail antonio.simeone@kcl.ac.uk


Previous mouse models have indicated that Otx1 and Otx2 play an important role in brain and sense organ development and, together with the Drosophila orthodenticle (otd) gene, they share a high degree of reciprocal functional equivalence. Interestingly, mouse models replacing the same region of the Otx2 locus with Otx1, otd or lacZ genes have revealed the existence of a differential post-transcriptional control between the visceral endoderm (VE) and epiblast cells. Indeed Otx1, otd or lacZ mRNA were transcribed in both tissues but translated only in the VE. Embryos lacking OTX1 or OTD proteins in the epiblast and derived tissues, such as the neuroectoderm and axial mesendoderm (AME), fail to maintain the anterior identity and result in a headless phenotype. This finding leads us to hypothesise that, during evolution, the specification of the vertebrate-type brain may have required epiblast cells to translate Otx2 mRNA in order to establish maintenance properties. The establishment of this regulatory control might have been reflected into a remarkable reorganisation of the rostral CNS architecture and might have represented an important event in the evolution of the vertebrate head. Current data suggest that the Otx2 replaced region and in particular the 3′ untranslated region (UTR), may contain regulatory element(s) necessary to translate and/or stabilise Otx2 mRNA in epiblast and its derivatives.