The regional identity of organs and organ systems along the anterior-posterior axis during embryonic development is patterned, in part, by Hox genes, which encode transcription factor proteins that activate or repress the expression of downstream target genes. Divergent nested Hox gene expression patterns may have had a role in facilitating morphological divergence of structures, such as the pharyngeal jaw apparatus, among evolutionarily divergent teleost fishes. Recent studies from several evolutionarily divergent teleosts, such as the Japanese Medaka (Oryzias latipes) and the Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), have shown the presence of divergent expression patterns of several Hox genes within paralog groups 2–5 between these species. Specifically, these expression patterns were documented in the pharyngeal arches, which give rise to the pharyngeal jaw apparatus. While the expression patterns of several Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Hox genes that are orthologous to those of Medaka and Tilapia have been documented within the developing hindbrain and pharyngeal arches, many still have yet to be documented, especially within the pharyngeal arches during the postmigratory cranial neural crest cell stages. Here, we present the expression patterns of six Zebrafish Hox genes, hoxc3a, d3a, a4a, d4a, b5a, and c5a, within the pharyngeal arches during a postmigratory cranial neural crest cell stage and compare them to their orthologous genes of Medaka and Tilapia at similar stages. We show that while hoxc3a, d3a, and c5a of Zebrafish are absent from the pharyngeal arches, hoxa4a, d4a, and b5a show divergent expression patterns from their orthologs in Medaka and Tilapia. These observed divergences may be, in part, responsible for the divergent pharyngeal jaw apparatus structures exhibited by these fishes.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This study was funded by a President’s Faculty Development Initiative grant from Gordon State College to Dr. Adam Davis. We thank Dr. Pierre Le Pabic of University of North Carolina, Wilmington for providing us with zebrafish embryos (IACUC protocol #A34160-01).