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SUMMARY

The vitamin A derived morphogen retinoic acid (RA) is known to function in the regulation of tissue proliferation and differentiation. Here, we show that exogenous RA applied to late larvae of the invertebrate chordate amphioxus can reverse some differentiated states. Although treatment with the RA antagonist BMS009 has no obvious effect on late larvae of amphioxus, administration of excess RA alters the morphology of the posterior end of the body. The anus closes over, and gut contents accumulate in the hindgut. In addition, the larval tail fin regresses, although little apoptosis takes place. This fin normally consists of columnar epidermal cells, each characterized by a ciliary rootlet running all the way from an apical centriole to the base of the cell and likely contributing substantial cytoskeletal support. After a few days of RA treatment, the rootlet becomes disrupted, and the cell shape changes from columnar to cuboidal. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) shows fragments of the rootlet in the basal cytoplasm of the cuboidal cell. A major component of the ciliary rootlet in amphioxus is the protein Rootletin, which is encoded by a single AmphiRootletin gene. This gene is highly expressed in the tail epithelial cells of control larvae, but becomes downregulated after about a day of RA treatment, and the breakup of the ciliary rootlet soon follows. The effect of excess RA on these epidermal cells of the larval tail in amphioxus is unlike posterior regression in developing zebrafish, where elevated RA signaling alters connective tissues of mesodermal origin. In contrast, however, the RA-induced closure of the amphioxus anus has parallels in the RA-induced caudal regression syndrome of mammals.