Published in EvoDevo, Vol. 4 No. 23 (2013) at doi: 10.1186/2041-9139-4-23


BACKGROUND: Hox genes encode transcription factors that have an ancestral role in all bilaterian animals in specifying regions along the antero-posterior axis. In arthropods (insects, crustaceans, myriapods and chelicerates), Hox genes function to specify segmental identity, and changes in Hox gene expression domains in different segments have been causal to the evolution of novel arthropod morphologies. Despite this, the roles of Hox genes in arthropods that have secondarily lost or reduced their segmental composition have been relatively unexplored. Recent data suggest that acariform mites have a reduced segmental component of their posterior body tagma, the opisthosoma, in that only two segments are patterned during embryogenesis. This is in contrast to the observation that in many extinct and extant chelicerates (that is, horseshoe crabs, scorpions, spiders and harvestmen) the opisthosoma is comprised of ten or more segments. To explore the role of Hox genes in this reduced body region, we followed the expression of the posterior-patterning Hox genes Ultrabithorax (Ubx) and Abdominal-B (Abd-B), as well as the segment polarity genes patched (ptc) and engrailed (en), in the oribatid mite Archegozetes longisetosus.

RESULTS: We find that the expression patterns of ptc are in agreement with previous reports of a reduced mite opisthosoma. In comparison to the ptc and en expression patterns, we find that Ubx and Abd-B are expressed in a single segment in A. longisetosus, the second opisthosomal segment. Abd-B is initially expressed more posteriorly than Ubx, that is, into the unsegmented telson; however, this domain clears in subsequent stages where it remains in the second opisthosomal segment.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that Ubx and Abd-B are expressed in a single segment in the opisthosoma. This is a novel observation, in that these genes are expressed in several segments in all studied arthropods. These data imply that a reduction in opisthosomal segmentation may be tied to a dramatically reduced Hox gene input in the opisthosoma.