Author(s): Jeffery WR
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Abstract The Mexican tetra Astyanax mexicanus has many of the favorable attributes that have made the zebrafish a model system in developmental biology. The existence of eyed surface (surface fish) and blind cave (cavefish) dwelling forms in Astyanax also provides an attractive system for studying the evolution of developmental mechanisms. The polarity of evolutionary changes and the environmental conditions leading to the cavefish phenotype are known with certainty, and several different cavefish populations have evolved constructive and regressive changes independently. The constructive changes include enhancement of the feeding apparatus (jaws, taste buds, and teeth) and the mechanosensory system of cranial neuromasts. The homeobox gene Prox 1, which is expressed in the expanded taste buds and cranial neuromasts, is one of the genes involved in the constructive changes in sensory organ development. The regressive changes include loss of pigmentation and eye degeneration. Although adult cavefish lack functional eyes, small eye primordia are formed during embryogenesis, which later arrest in development, degenerate, and sink into the orbit. Apoptosis and lens signaling to other eye parts, such as the cornea, iris, and retina, result in the arrest of eye development and ultimate optic degeneration. Accordingly, an eye with restored cornea, iris, and retinal photoreceptor cells is formed when a surface fish lens is transplanted into a cavefish optic cup, indicating that cavefish optic tissues have conserved the ability to respond to lens signaling. Genetic analysis indicates that multiple genes regulate eye degeneration, and molecular studies suggest that Pax6 may be one of the genes controlling cavefish eye degeneration. Further studies of the Astyanax system will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of developmental mechanisms in vertebrates.
This article was published in Dev Biol
and referenced in Journal of Biodiversity, Bioprospecting and Development