Most studies in evolution are centered on how homologous genes, structures, and/or processes appeared and diverged. Although historical homology is well defined as a concept, in practice its establishment can be problematic, especially for some morphological traits or developmental processes. Metamorphosis in chordates is such an enigmatic character. Defined as a spectacular postembryonic larva-to-adult transition, it shows a wide morphological diversity between the different chordate lineages, suggesting that it might have appeared several times independently. In vertebrates, metamorphosis is triggered by binding of the thyroid hormones (THs) T4 and T3 to thyroid-hormone receptors (TRs). Here we show that a TH derivative, triiodothyroacetic acid (TRIAC), induces metamorphosis in the cephalochordate amphioxus. The amphioxus TR (amphiTR) mediates spontaneous and TRIAC-induced metamorphosis because it strongly binds to TRIAC, and a specific TR antagonist, NH3, inhibits both spontaneous and TRIAC-induced metamorphosis. Moreover, as in amphibians, amphiTR expression levels increase around metamorphosis and are enhanced by THs. Therefore, TH-regulated metamorphosis, mediated by TR, is an ancestral feature of all chordates. This conservation of a regulatory network supports the homology of metamorphosis in the chordate lineage.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)