The evolution of paired appendages in vertebrates: T-box genes in the zebrafish
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The presence of two sets of paired appendages is one of the defining features of jawed vertebrates. We are interested in identifying genetic systems that could have been responsible for the origin of the first set of such appendages, for their subsequent duplication at a different axial level, and/or for the generation of their distinct identities. It has been hypothesized that four genes of the T-box gene family (Tbx2–Tbx5) played important roles in the course of vertebrate limb evolution. To test this idea, we characterized the orthologs of tetrapod limb-expressed T-box genes from a teleost, Danio rerio. Here we report isolation of three of these genes, tbx2, tbx4, and tbx5. We found that their expression patterns are remarkably similar to those of their tetrapod counterparts. In particular, expression of tbx5 and tbx4 is restricted to pectoral and pelvic fin buds, respectively, while tbx2 can be detected at the anterior and posterior margins of the outgrowing fin buds. This, in combination with conserved expression patterns in other tissues, suggests that the last common ancestor of teleosts and tetrapods possessed all four of these limb-expressed T-box genes (Tbx2–Tbx5), and that these genes had already acquired, and have subsequently maintained, their gene-specific functions. Furthermore, this evidence provides molecular support for the notion that teleost pectoral and pelvic fins and tetrapod fore- and hindlimbs, respectively, are homologous structures, as suggested by comparative morphological analyses.
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