Neonates of marsupial mammals are altricial at birth, because their gestation period is relatively short compared to placental mammals. Yet, as they need to travel to the teat from the birth canal, and suckle on the mother's milk, forelimbs and jaws develop significantly early. Previous studies in opossum (Monodelphis domestica), an experimental marsupial model, have revealed that cranial neural crest cells are generated significantly early compared to those in placental mammals, such as mouse, leading to an early development of jaw primordia. We have previously found that Sox9, an important neural crest-specifier gene, is expressed in the future cranial neural crest of the opossum embryonic ectoderm significantly earlier than that in mouse or quail embryos. As Sox9 is essential for neural crest formation in various vertebrates, it seems likely that the heterochronic expression of Sox9 is critical for the early cranial neural crest formation in the marsupial embryos. In this study, we show a marsupial-specific sequence in the Sox9 neural crest enhancer E3. We also reveal that the mouse E3 enhancer is activated in the cranial neural crest cells of quail embryos, that the E3 enhancer with marsupial-specific sequence is activated earlier in the Pax7-expressing neural border prior to the onset of endogenous Sox9 expression, and that a misexpression of cMyb, which is also a transcriptional activator of Pax7, in the neural border can ectopically activate the “marsupialized” enhancer. Thus, we suggest that the modification of the E3 enhancer sequence in the marsupial ancestor would have promoted the early expression of Sox9 in the neural border, facilitating the early formation of the cranial neural crest cells and the subsequent heterochronic development of the jaw primordia.
- Cranial neural crest
- Neural border