McClintock, J.M., Jozefowicz, C., Assimacopoulos, S., Grove, E.A., Louvi, A., and Prince, V.E. (2003) Conserved expression of Hoxa1 in neurons at the ventral forebrain/midbrain boundary of vertebrates. Development genes and evolution. 213(8):399-406.
The previously described expression patterns of zebrafish and mouse Hoxa1 genes are seemingly very disparate, with mouse Hoxa1 expressed in the gastrula stage hindbrain and the orthologous zebrafish hoxa1a gene expressed in cell clusters within the ventral forebrain and midbrain. To investigate the evolution of Hox gene deployment within the vertebrate CNS, we have performed a comparative expression analysis of Hoxa1 orthologs in a range of vertebrate species, comprising representatives from the two major lineages of vertebrates (actinopterygians and sarcopterygians). We find that fore/midbrain expression of hoxa1a is conserved within the teleosts, as it is shared by the ostariophysan teleost zebrafish ( Danio rerio) and the distantly related acanthopterygian teleost medaka ( Oryzias latipes). Furthermore, we find that in addition to the described gastrula stage hindbrain expression of mouse Hoxa1, there is a previously unreported neurula stage expression domain, again located more anteriorly at the ventral fore/midbrain boundary. A two-phase expression profile in early hindbrain and later fore/midbrain is shared by the other tetrapod model organisms chick and Xenopus. We show that the anterior Hoxa1 expression domain is localized to the anterior terminus of the medial longitudinal fasciculus (MLF) in mouse, chick, and zebrafish. These findings suggest that anterior expression of Hoxa1 is a primitive characteristic that is shared by the two major vertebrate lineages. We conclude that Hox gene expression within the vertebrate CNS is not confined exclusively to the segmented hindbrain and spinal cord, but rather that a presumptive fore/midbrain expression domain arose early in vertebrate origins and has been conserved for at least 400 million years.