Formation and subdivision of the head field in the centipede Strigamia maritima, as revealed by the expression of head gap gene orthologues and hedgehog dynamics.

25 Jan 2018

Background There have been few studies of head patterning in non-insect arthropods, and even in the insects, much is not yet understood. In the fly Drosophila three head gap genes, orthodenticle (otd), buttonhead (btd) and empty spiracles (ems) are essential for patterning the head. However, they do not act through the same pair-rule genes that pattern the trunk from the mandibular segment backwards. Instead they act through the downstream factors collier (col) and cap‘n’collar (cnc), and presumably other unknown factors. In the beetle Tribolium, these same gap and downstream genes are also expressed during early head development, but in more restricted domains, and some of them have been shown to be of minor functional importance. In the spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum, hedgehog (hh) and otd have been shown to play an important role in head segmentation. Results We have investigated the expression dynamics of otx (otd), SP5/btd, ems, and the downstream factors col, cnc and hh during early head development of the centipede Strigamia maritima. Our results reveal the process of head condensation and show that the anteroposterior sequence of specific gene expression is conserved with that in insects. SP5/btd and otx genes are expressed prior to and during head field formation, whereas ems is not expressed until after the initial formation of the head field, in an emerging gap between SP5/btd and otx expression. Furthermore, we observe an early domain of Strigamia hh expression in the head field that splits to produce segmental stripes in the ocular, antennal and intercalary segments. Conclusions The dynamics of early gene expression in the centipede show considerable similarity with that in the beetle, both showing more localised expression of head gap genes than occurs in the fly. This suggests that the broad overlapping domains of head gap genes observed in Drosophila are derived in this lineage. We also suggest that the splitting of the early hh segmental stripes may reflect an ancestral and conserved process in arthropod head patterning. A remarkably similar stripe splitting process has been described in a spider, and in the Drosophila head hh expression starts from a broad domain that transforms into three stripes.