A shared role for sonic hedgehog signalling in patterning chondrichthyan gill arch appendages and tetrapod limbs.

03 March 2016

Chondrichthyans (sharks, skates, rays and holocephalans) possess paired appendages that project laterally from their gill arches, known as branchial rays. This led Carl Gegenbaur to propose that paired fins (and hence tetrapod limbs) originally evolved via transformation of gill arches. Tetrapod limbs are patterned by asonic hedgehog(Shh)-expressing signalling centre known as the zone of polarising activity, which establishes the anteroposterior axis of the limb bud and maintains proliferative expansion of limb endoskeletal progenitors. Here, we use loss-of-function, label-retention and fate-mapping approaches in the little skate to demonstrate that Shh secretion from a signalling centre in the developing gill arches establishes gill arch anteroposterior polarity and maintains the proliferative expansion of branchial ray endoskeletal progenitor cells. These findings highlight striking parallels in the axial patterning mechanisms employed by chondrichthyan branchial rays and paired fins/limbs, and provide mechanistic insight into the anatomical foundation of Gegenbaur's gill arch hypothesis.