Recent Advances in Hagfish Developmental Biology in a Historical Context: Implications for Understanding the Evolution of the Vertebral Elements

  • Kinya G. OtaEmail author
Part of the Diversity and Commonality in Animals book series (DCA)


Hagfish have been recognized as important for investigating the evolution of vertebral elements, because of their crucial phylogenetic position; however, the deep-sea habitat of most hagfish species limits the number of available embryos, thus impeding studies of their embryology in general and of their axial skeletogenesis in particular. This paucity of hagfish embryos has long impeded attempts to determine whether the absence of vertebral elements in this animal represents the ancestral morphological state. However, embryonic materials recently obtained from the Japanese inshore hagfish (Eptatretus burgeri) have provided an opportunity to investigate the fine histology of the embryonic somite and gene expression patterns of somite derivatives. These approaches identified segmentally arranged mesenchyme-derived nodules of cartilage at the ventral aspect of the notochord. On the basis of the clear gene expression patterns of Twist and Pax1/9 (known as sclerotomal markers in gnathostomes), it is presumed that hagfish and gnathostomes share similar molecular developmental mechanisms for the vertebral elements. In sum, the common ancestor of all vertebrates likely possessed the developmental mechanisms that control expression of Twist and Pax1/9 and the formation of segmentally arranged vertebral elements. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the hagfish vertebral elements, like the rest of the skeleton, represent a secondary degenerated condition.


Vertebrates Vertebra Axial skeleton Pax1/9 Twist Cyclostomes Extracellular matrix 


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© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Aquatic Zoology, Marine Research StationInstitute of Cellular and Organismic Biology, Academia SinicaYilanTaiwan

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