Testing putative hemichordate homologues of the chordate dorsal nervous system and endostyle: expression of NK2.1 (TTF-1) in the acorn worm Ptychodera flava (Hemichordata, Ptychoderidae)


* Correspondence (e-mail: kevin.peterson@dartmouth.edu )


SUMMARY Recent phylogenetic investigations have confirmed that hemichordates and echinoderms are sister taxa. However, hemichordates share several cardinal characteristics with chordates and are thus an important taxon for testing hypotheses of homology between key chordate characters and their putative hemichordate antecedents. The chordate dorsal nervous system (DNS) and endostyle are intriguing characters because both hemichordate larval and adult structures have been hypothesized as homologues. This study attempts to test these purported homologies through examination of the expression pattern of a Ptychodera flava NK2 gene, PfNK2.1, because this gene is expressed both in the DNS and endostyle/thyroid in a wide range of chordate taxa. We found that PfNK2.1 is expressed in both neuronal and pharyngeal structures, but its expression pattern is broken up into distinct embryonic and juvenile phases. During embryogenesis, PfNK2.1 is expressed in the apical ectoderm, with transcripts later detected in presumable neuronal structures, including the apical organ and ciliated feeding band. In the developing juvenile we detected PfNK2.1 signal throughout the pharynx, including the stomochord, and later in the hindgut. We conclude that the similar utilization of NK2.1 in apical organ development and chordate DNS is probably due to a more general role for NK2.1 in neurogenesis and that hemichordates do not possess a homologue of the chordate DNS. In addition, we conclude that P. flava most likely does not possess a true endostyle; rather during the evolution of the endostyle NK2.1 was recruited from its more general role in pharynx development.