Hox genes exert fundamental roles for proper regional specification along the main rostro-caudal axis of animal embryos. They are generally expressed in restricted spatial domains according to their position in the cluster (spatial colinearity)-a feature that is conserved across bilaterians. In jawed vertebrates (gnathostomes), the position in the cluster also determines the onset of expression of Hox genes (a feature known as whole-cluster temporal colinearity (WTC)), while in invertebrates this phenomenon is displayed as a subcluster-level temporal colinearity. However, little is known about the expression profile of Hox genes in jawless vertebrates (cyclostomes); therefore, the evolutionary origin of WTC, as seen in gnathostomes, remains a mystery. Here, we show that Hox genes in cyclostomes are expressed according to WTC during development. We investigated the Hox repertoire and Hox gene expression profiles in three different species-a hagfish, a lamprey and a shark-encompassing the two major groups of vertebrates, and found that these are expressed following a whole-cluster, temporally staggered pattern, indicating that WTC has been conserved during the past 500?million years despite drastically different genome evolution and morphological outputs between jawless and jawed vertebrates.
Journal: Nature ecology & evolution