Evolution of the role of RA and FGF signals in the control of somitogenesis in chordates

Stéphanie Bertrand, Daniel Aldea, Silvan Oulion, Lucie Subirana, Angel R. de Lera, Ildiko Maureen Lara Somorjai, Hector Escriva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


During vertebrate development, the paraxial mesoderm becomes segmented, forming somites that will give rise to dermis, axial skeleton and skeletal muscles. Although recently challenged, the "clock and wavefront" model for somitogenesis explains how interactions between several cell-cell communication pathways, including the FGF, RA, Wnt and Notch signals, control the formation of these bilateral symmetric blocks. In the cephalochordate amphioxus, which belongs to the chordate phylum together with tunicates and vertebrates, the dorsal paraxial mesendoderm also periodically forms somites, although this process is asymmetric and extends along the whole body. It has been previously shown that the formation of the most anterior somites in amphioxus is dependent upon FGF signalling. However, the signals controlling somitogenesis during posterior elongation in amphioxus are still unknown. Here we show that, contrary to vertebrates, RA and FGF signals act independently during posterior elongation and that they are not mandatory for posterior somites to form. Moreover, we show that RA is not able to buffer the left/right asymmetry machinery that is controlled through the asymmetric expression of Nodal pathway actors. Our results give new insights into the evolution of the somitogenesis process in chordates. They suggest that RA and FGF pathways have acquired specific functions in the control of somitogenesis in vertebrates. We propose that the "clock and wavefront" system was selected specifically in vertebrates in parallel to the development of more complex somite-derived
45 structures but that it was not required for somitogenesis in the ancestor of chordates.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0136587
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS One
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2015


  • Somitogenesis
  • L/R asymmetry
  • Amphioxus
  • Evo-Devo
  • Retinoic acid
  • Fibroblast growth factor


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