Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trichoplax adhaerens: The Mnx (aka HB9) gene

The Trichoplax Mnx sequence: ABC86118
Comparison of this sequence with a few others: Cladogram

The human Mnx1 gene.

The fly Mnx gene (exex)
The Zebrafish Mnx gene

What does it do?
It is involved in the development of the pancreas and motor neurons.
1) Zebrafish mnx genes in endocrine and exocrine pancreas formation.
2) The Mnx homeobox gene class defined by HB9, MNR2 and amphioxus AmphiMnx.
The HB9 homeobox gene has been cloned from several vertebrates and is implicated in motor neuron differentiation. In the chick, a related gene, MNR2, acts upstream of HB9 in this process. Here we report an amphioxus homologue of these genes and show that it diverged before the gene duplication yielding HB9 and MNR2. AmphiMnx RNA is detected in two irregular punctate stripes along the developing neural tube, comparable to the distribution of 'dorsal compartment' motor neurons, and also in dorsal endoderm and posterior mesoderm. We propose a new homeobox class, Mnx, to include AmphiMnx, HB9, MNR2 and their Drosophila and echinoderm orthologues; we suggest that vertebrate HB9 is renamed Mnx1 and MNR2 be renamed Mnx2.

Interesting research:

Directed Evolution of Motor Neurons from Genetically Engineered Neural Precursors.
Stem cell-based therapies hold therapeutic promise for degenerative motor neuron diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and for spinal cord injury. Fetal neural progenitors present less risk of tumor formation than embryonic stem (ES) cells but inefficiently differentiate into motor neurons, in line with their low expression of motor neuron-specific transcription factors and poor response to soluble external factors. To overcome this limitation, we genetically engineered fetal rat spinal cord neurospheres to express the transcription factors HB9, Nkx6.1 and Ngn2. Enforced expression of the three factors rendered neural precursors responsive to sonic hedgehog and retinoic acid and directed their differentiation into cholinergic motor neurons that projected axons and formed contacts with co-cultured myotubes. When transplanted in the injured adult rat spinal cord, a model of acute motor neuron degeneration, the engineered precursors transiently proliferated, colonized the ventral horn, expressed motor neuron-specific differentiation markers and projected cholinergic axons in the ventral root. We conclude that genetic engineering can drive the differentiation of fetal neural precursors into motor neurons which efficiently engraft in the spinal cord. The strategy thus holds promise for cell replacement in motor neuron and related diseases.
What did these guys do? They enforced the expression of 3 genes associated with neuronal development in order to direct the development of motor neurons. Sonic hedgehog also played a role.
So four genes played a role:
  1. HB9
  2. Nkx6.1
  3. Ngn2
  4. Sonic hedgehog

Are similar genes present in the Trichoplax genome?
1. HB9 (mnx)
Yes (see above).

2. Nkx6.1
Here is the human Nk6 gene
And here is the Trichoplax version

3. Ngn2
Here is the human neurogenin 2 (ngn2) gene
And here is the Trichoplax version.
A quick BLAST (blastp) the human genome shows this sequence to be closely related to ngn2 (E-value = 3^-8).

4. Sonic hedgehog (shh)
Here is the human shh gene
This gene seems to absent in from the Trichoplax genome, however, the presence of shh in Monosiga brevicollis (unicellular eukaryote that diverged before Trichoplax) suggest the possibility of gene loss in this lineage.

Wonder what will happen if shh is co-expressed and together with mnx, Nk6 and ngn2 in Trichoplax, or whether these genes will function like their counterparts in higher animals.

A complex array of neurologically associated developmental pathways present in this eumetazoan that has no nerves, sensory cells and muscle cells, and there is more

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