New frontiers in the evolution of fin development. Academic Article uri icon


  • The locomotory appendages of vertebrates have undergone significant changes during evolution, which likely promoted a wide range of adaptive strategies. These appendages first evolved as unpaired finfolds in the dorsal midline of early chordates, more than 500 million years ago. Later on, during vertebrates' radiation, two sets of locomotory appendages emerged, developing from both sides of the latero-ventral body wall. The morphology of these paired fins in fishes at different phylogenetic positions suggests an evolutionary tendency for increasing elaboration of the endoskeleton and concomitant reduction of the distal dermoskeleton. This evolutionary process culminated with the origin of limbs in the lineages leading to tetrapods. The developmental programs responsible for the evolution of vertebrate appendages have been a major topic for evolutionary developmental biology recently. Gene expression comparisons performed in chordates explored how these mechanisms were transferred from a midline to latero-ventral position. On another front, gene function assays have begun to test classical hypotheses concerning the transition from fish fins to tetrapod limbs. In this review, we highlight these recent findings on the evolution of vertebrate fin development. First, we discuss new perspectives on the transition from midline to paired appendages focus on (i) origin and molecular regionalization of the lateral plate mesoderm and (ii) novel ectodermic competency zones for fin induction. Next, we review recent work exploring how tetrapod limbs evolved from fish fins, considering (i) molecular and structural changes in the distal ectoderm of fins and (ii) modulation of 5'HoxD transcription during fin endoskeleton development.

publication date

  • November 2014