Thyroid Hormone Receptor Genes of Neotenic Amphibians
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Since thyroid hormones play a pivotal role in amphibian metamorphosis we used PCR to amplify DNA fragments corresponding to a portion of the ligand-binding domain of the thyroid hormone receptor (TR) genes in several neotenic amphibians: the obligatory neotenic members of the family Proteidea the mudpuppy Necturus maculosus and Proteus anguinus as well as two members of the facultative neotenic Ambystoma genus: the axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum and the tiger salamander Ambystoma tigrinum. In addition, we looked for TR genes in the genome of an apode Typhlonectes compressicaudus. TR genes were found in all these species including the obligatory neotenic ones. The PCR fragments obtained encompass both the C and E domains and correspond to α and β genes. Their sequences appear to be normal, suggesting that there is no acceleration of evolutionary rates in the TR genes of neotenic amphibians. This result is not surprising for Ambystomatidae, which are known to respond to T3 (3,3′,5-triiodothyronine) but is not in agreement with biochemical and biological data showing that Proteidea cannot respond to thyroid hormones. Interestingly, by RT-PCR analysis we observed a high expression levels of TRα in gills, intestine, and muscles of Necturus as well as in the liver of Ambystoma mexicanum, whereas TRβ expression was only detected in Ambystoma mexicanum but not in Necturus. Such a differential expression pattern of TRα and TRβ may explain the neoteny in Proteidea. The cloning of thyroid-hormone-receptor gene fragments from these species will allow the molecular study of their failure to undergo metamorphosis.
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