BACKGROUND: Until recently, mechanisms of segmentation established for Drosophila served as a paradigm for arthropod segmentation. However, with the discovery of gene expression waves in vertebrate segmentation, another paradigm based on oscillations linked to axial growth was established. The Notch pathway and hairy delay oscillator are basic components of this mechanism, as is the wnt pathway. With the establishment of oscillations during segmentation of the beetle Tribolium, a common segmentation mechanism may have been present in the last common ancestor of vertebrates and arthropods. However, the Notch pathway is not involved in segmentation of the initial Drosophila embryo. In arthropods, the engrailed, wingless pair has a much more conserved function in segmentation than most of the hierarchy established for Drosophila.
RESULTS: Here, we work backwards from this conserved pair by discussing possible mechanisms which could have taken over the role of the Notch pathway. We propose a pivotal role for the large transmembrane protein Ten-m/Odz. Ten-m/Odz may have had an ancient role in cell-cell communication, parallel to the Notch and wnt pathways. The Ten-m protein binds to the membrane with properties which resemble other membrane-based biochemical oscillators.
CONCLUSION: We propose that such a simple transition could have formed the initial scaffold, on top of which the hierarchy, observed in the syncytium of dipterans, could have evolved.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Cambrian explosion
- Chemical oscillations