Epigenetic Regulation of Alternative Developmental Trajectories

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The FASEB Journal

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The annual killifish, Austrofundulus limnaeus, is capable of entering into a state of metabolic and developmental dormancy during embryogenesis termed diapause. However, individuals may also follow an alternative phenotypic trajectory and instead "escaped" entry into diapause and develop continuously until hatching. Early development along the two trajectories is morphologically indistinguishable, and gene regulatory mechanisms are currently unknown. Phenotype appears to be influenced by maternal provisioning based on the observation that young females produce predominately escape embryos and older females produce diapausing embryos. Additionally, the incubation temperature of embryos can override this maternal pattern and alter trajectory. Maternal provisioning is known in many vertebrates to direct early development prior to the initiation of embryonic gene transcription. Using RNA-seq, we have generated transcriptomic profiles of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) during embryogenesis of A. limnaeus. Embryos that are destined for either the diapause or escape phenotypes have unique profiles of mRNA isoforms at fertilization; well before they are morphologically distinct. We hypothesize that maternally packaged gene products coordinate the cellular events that determine developmental trajectory in A. limnaeus. In addition, we propose the expression of environmentally responsive microRNAs during development that can override maternal provisioning. RNA-seq data during early development, after the maternal-to-zygotic transition, suggest distinct profiles of microRNA expression that are phenotype specific. Our findings suggest maternal programming of diapause through the packaging of specific mRNAs as well as temperature induced microRNAs that target maternal transcripts allowing an escape from the diapause trajectory. This presents a novel example of maternal-embryonic-conflict in gene regulation that provides the embryo with alternatives in developmental trajectories in the face of fluctuating environmental patterns. These results will not only impact our understanding of genetic mechanisms that regulate entrance into diapause, but will also provide insight into epigenetic control of development.





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