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PLOS ONE  2012 

Differential Involvement of Hedgehog Signaling in Butterfly Wing and Eyespot Development

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051087

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Butterfly eyespots may have evolved from the recruitment of pre-existent gene circuits or regulatory networks into novel locations on the wing. Gene expression data suggests one such circuit, the Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway and its target gene engrailed (en), was recruited from a role in patterning the anterior-posterior insect wing axis to a role patterning butterfly eyespots. However, while Junonia coenia expresses hh and en both in the posterior compartment of the wing and in eyespot centers, Bicyclus anynana lacks hh eyespot-specific expression. This suggests that Hh signaling may not be functioning in eyespot development in either species or that it functions in J. coenia but not in B. anynana. In order to test these hypotheses, we performed functional tests of Hh signaling in these species. We investigated the effects of Hh protein sequestration during the larval stage on en expression levels, and on wing size and eyespot size in adults. Hh sequestration led to significantly reduced en expression and to significantly smaller wings and eyespots in both species. But while eyespot size in B. anynana was reduced proportionately to wing size, in J. coenia, eyespots were reduced disproportionately, indicating an independent role of Hh signaling in eyespot development in J. coenia. We conclude that while Hh signaling retains a conserved role in promoting wing growth across nymphalid butterflies, it plays an additional role in eyespot development in some, but not all, lineages of nymphalid butterflies. We discuss our findings in the context of alternative evolutionary scenarios that led to the differential expression of hh and other Hh pathway signaling members across nymphalid species.


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