The origin of spicule-forming cells in a 'primitive' sea urchin (Eucidaris tribuloides) which appears to lack primary mesenchyme cells.
The calcareous larval skeleton of euechinoid sea urchins is synthesized by primary mesenchyme cells which ingress prior to gastrulation. In embryos of the cidaroid sea urchin Eucidaris tribuloides, no mesenchyme cells ingress before gastrulation, yet larvae later contain skeletons. This apparent paradox is resolved by immunochemical, cell lineage and morphological evidence showing that spicule-forming cells of Eucidaris are homologous to primary mesenchyme cells of euechinoids. In particular, these two cell types share expression of two cell lineage-specific gene products, are derived from the same cellular precursors, the micromeres, and undergo a similar migratory phase prior to skeletogenesis. Despite these similarities, there are far fewer spicule-forming cells in Eucidaris than in typical euechinoids and they assume a different pattern during spiculogenesis. The homology between Eucidaris spicule-forming cells and euechinoid primary mesenchyme cells indicates that a heterochrony in the time of spicule-forming cell ingression has occurred since the divergence of their respective lineages.
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