Conserved Features and Evolutionary Shifts of the EDA Signaling Pathway Involved in Vertebrate Skin Appendage Development
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It is widely accepted that evolutionary changes in conserved developmental signaling pathways play an important role in morphological evolution. However, few in silico studies were interested in tracking such changes in a signaling pathway. The Ectodysplasin (EDA) pathway provides an opportunity to fill this gap because it is involved in vertebrate skin appendage development such as scales, teeth, hair, and feathers that take an obvious part in the adaptation of species to their environment. We benefited from the large amount of genomic data now available to explore the evolution of the upstream genes of the EDA pathway. In mammals, these genes are eda (encoding 2 ligands, EDA-A1 and EDA-A2), edar (EDA-A1 receptor), edaradd (EDA receptor [EDAR] adapter), xedar (EDA-A2 receptor), and troy (a XEDAR-related receptor). We show that the evolution of EDA pathway genes combines both strongly conserved features and evolutionary shifts. These shifts are found at different signaling levels (from the ligand to intracellular signaling) and at different taxonomic levels (class, suborder, and genera). Although conserved features likely participate to the similarities found in the early development of vertebrate skin appendages, these shifts might account for innovations and specializations. Moreover, our study demonstrates that we can now benefit from the large number of sequenced vertebrate genomes to explore the evolution of specific signaling pathways and thereby to open new perspectives for developmental biology and evolutionary developmental biology.
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