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PLOS ONE  2013 

Mesodermal Gene Expression in the Acoel Isodiametra pulchra Indicates a Low Number of Mesodermal Cell Types and the Endomesodermal Origin of the Gonads

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055499

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Acoelomorphs are bilaterally symmetric small marine worms that lack a coelom and possess a digestive system with a single opening. Two alternative phylogenetic positions of this group within the animal tree are currently debated. In one view, Acoelomorpha is the sister group to all remaining Bilateria and as such, is a morphologically simple stepping stone in bilaterian evolution. In the other, the group is a lineage within the Deuterostomia, and therefore, has derived a simple morphology from a more complex ancestor. Acoels and the closely related Nemertodermatida and Xenoturbellida, which together form the Acoelomorpha, possess a very limited number of cell types. To further investigate the diversity and origin of mesodermal cell types we describe the expression pattern of 12 orthologs of bilaterian mesodermal markers including Six1/2, Twist, FoxC, GATA4/5/6, in the acoel Isodiametra pulchra. All the genes are expressed in stem cells (neoblasts), gonads, and at least subsets of the acoel musculature. Most are expressed in endomesodermal compartments of I. pulchra developing embryos similar to what has been described in cnidarians. Our molecular evidence indicates a very limited number of mesodermal cell types and suggests an endomesodermal origin of the gonads and the stem cell system. We discuss our results in light of the two prevailing phylogenetic positions of Acoelomorpha.


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