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Open Access Research

Cap’n’collar differentiates the mandible from the maxilla in the beetle Tribolium castaneum

Joshua F Coulcher and Maximilian J Telford*

Author Affiliations

Department of Genetics, Environment and Evolution, University College London, Darwin Building, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK

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EvoDevo 2012, 3:25  doi:10.1186/2041-9139-3-25

Published: 1 November 2012

Abstract

Background

The biting mandible of the arthropods is thought to have evolved in the ancestor of the insects, crustaceans and myriapods: the Mandibulata. A unique origin suggests a common set of developmental genes will be required to pattern the mandible in different arthropods. To date we have functional studies on patterning of the mandibular segment of Drosophila melanogaster showing in particular the effects of the gene cap’n’collar (cnc), however, the dipteran head is far from representative of insects or of more distantly related mandibulates; Drosophila does not even possess a mandibular appendage. To study the development of a more representative insect mandible, we chose the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum and investigated the function of the Tribolium orthologs of cap’n’collar (Tc-cnc) and the Hox gene Deformed (Tc-Dfd). In order to determine the function of Tc-cnc and Tc-Dfd, transcripts were knocked down by maternal RNA interference (RNAi). The effects of gene knockdown were examined in the developing embryos and larvae. The effect of Tc-cnc and Tc-Dfd knockdown on the expression of other genes was determined by using in situ hybridization on Tribolium embryos.

Results

Our analyses show that Tc-cnc is required for specification of the identity of the mandibular segment of Tribolium and differentiates the mandible from maxillary identity. Loss of Tc-cnc function results in a transformation of the mandible to maxillary identity as well as deletion of the labrum. Tc-Dfd and the Tribolium homolog of proboscipedia (Tc-mxp = maxillopedia), Hox genes that are required to pattern the maxillary appendage, are expressed in a maxilla-like manner in the transformed mandible. Tribolium homologs of paired (Tc-prd) and Distal-less (Tc-Dll) that are expressed in the endites and telopodites of embryonic appendages are also expressed in a maxilla-like manner in the transformed mandible.

We also show that Tc-Dfd is required to activate the collar of Tc-cnc expression in the mandibular segment but not the cap expression in the labrum. Tc-Dfd is also required for the activation of Tc-prd in the endites of the mandible and maxillary appendages.

Conclusions

Tc-cnc is necessary for patterning the mandibular segment of Tribolium. Together, Tc-cnc and Tc-Dfd cooperate to specify mandibular identity, as in Drosophila. Expression patterns of the homologs of cnc and Dfd are conserved in mandibulate arthropods suggesting that the mandible specifying function of cnc is likely to be conserved across the mandibulate arthropods.

Keywords:
Beetle; cap’n’collar; Deformed; Endite; Labrum; Mandible; Maxilla; RNAi; Tribolium