Mammals and birds have common embryological facial structures, and appear to employ the same molecular genetic developmental toolkit. We utilized natural variation found in bird beaks to investigate what genes drive vertebrate facial morphogenesis. We employed cross-species microarrays to describe the molecular genetic signatures, developmental signaling pathways and the spectrum of transcription factor (TF) gene expression changes that differ between cranial neural crest cells in the developing beaks of ducks, quails and chickens. Surprisingly, we observed that the neural crest cells established a species-specific TF gene expression profile that predates morphological differences between the species. A total of 232 genes were differentially expressed between the three species. Twenty-two of these genes, including Fgfr2, Jagged2, Msx2, Satb2 and Tgfb3, have been previously implicated in a variety of mammalian craniofacial defects. Seventy-two of the differentially expressed genes overlap with un-cloned loci for human craniofacial disorders, suggesting that our data will provide a valuable candidate gene resource for human craniofacial genetics. The most dramatic changes between species were in the Wnt signaling pathway, including a 20-fold up-regulation of Dkk2, Fzd1 and Wnt1 in the duck compared with the other two species. We functionally validated these changes by demonstrating that spatial domains of Wnt activity differ in avian beaks, and that Wnt signals regulate Bmp pathway activity and promote regional growth in facial prominences. This study is the first of its kind, extending on previous work in Darwin's finches and provides the first large-scale insights into cross-species facial morphogenesis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology