Expression of a lung developmental cassette in the adult and developing zebrafish swimbladder


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The presence of an air-filled organ (AO), either lungs or a swimbladder, is a defining character of the Osteichthyes (bony vertebrates, including tetrapods). Despite the functional and structural diversity of AOs, it was not previously known whether the same group of developmental regulatory genes are involved in the early development of both lungs and swimbladders. This study demonstrates that a suite of genes (Nkx2.1, FoxA2, Wnt7b, GATA6), previously reported to be co-expressed only in the tetrapod lung, is also co-expressed in the zebrafish swimbladder. We document the expression pattern of these genes in the adult and developing zebrafish swimbladder and compare the expression patterns to those in the mouse lung. Early-acting genes involved in endoderm specification are expressed in the same relative location and stage of AO development in both taxa (FoxA2 and GATA6), but the order of onset and location of expression are not completely conserved for the later acting genes (Nkx2.1 and Wnt7b). Co-expression of this suite of genes in both tetrapod lungs and swimbladders of ray-finned fishes is more likely due to common ancestry than independent co-option, because these genes are not known to be co-expressed anywhere except in the AOs of Osteichthyes. Any conserved gene product interactions may comprise a character identity network (ChIN) for the osteichthyan AO.