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Hirth, F., Kammermeier, L., Frei, E., Walldorf, U., Noll, M., Reichert, H. (2003). An urbilaterian origin of the tripartite brain: developmental genetic insights from Drosophila.  Development 130(11): 2365--2373.
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Studies on expression and function of key developmental control genes suggest that the embryonic vertebrate brain has a tripartite ground plan that consists of a forebrain/midbrain, a hindbrain and an intervening midbrain/hindbrain boundary region, which are characterized by the specific expression of the Otx, Hox and Pax2/5/8 genes, respectively. We show that the embryonic brain of the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster expresses all three sets of homologous genes in a similar tripartite pattern. Thus, a Pax2/5/8 expression domain is located at the interface of brain-specific otd/Otx2 and unpg/Gbx2 expression domains anterior to Hox expression regions. We identify this territory as the deutocerebral/tritocerebral boundary region in the embryonic Drosophila brain. Mutational inactivation of otd/Otx2 and unpg/Gbx2 result in the loss or misplacement of the brain-specific expression domains of Pax2/5/8 and Hox genes. In addition, otd/Otx2 and unpg/Gbx2 appear to negatively regulate each other at the interface of their brain-specific expression domains. Our studies demonstrate that the deutocerebral/tritocerebral boundary region in the embryonic Drosophila brain displays developmental genetic features similar to those observed for the midbrain/hindbrain boundary region in vertebrate brain development. This suggests that a tripartite organization of the embryonic brain was already established in the last common urbilaterian ancestor of protostomes and deuterostomes.

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