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nkx3.2 mutant zebrafish accommodate jaw joint loss through a phenocopy of the head shapes of Paleozoic jawless fish

By Tetsuto Miyashita, Pranidhi Baddam, Joanna Smeeton, Adam Phillip Oel, Natasha Natarajan, Brogan Gordon, A. Richard Palmer, Gage Crump, Daniel Graf, W. Ted Allison

Posted 19 Sep 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/776351 (published DOI: 10.1242/jeb.216945)

The vertebrate jaw is a versatile feeding apparatus that facilitated explosive diversification. To function, it requires a joint between the upper and lower jaws, so jaw joint defects - such as osteoarthritis or even ankylosis - are often highly disruptive and difficult to study. To describe consequences of jaw-joint dysfunction, we engineered two independent null alleles of a single jaw-joint marker gene, nkx3.2 , in zebrafish. These mutations caused zebrafish to become functionally jawless via fusion of the upper and lower jaw cartilages (ankylosis). Despite lacking jaw joints, nkx3.2 mutants survive to adulthood and accommodate this defect by: a) remodeling their skulls; and b) altering their behavior from suction feeding to ram feeding. As a result of remodeling, nkx3.2 mutants developed superficial similarities to the skull shapes observed in two lineages of ancient jawless vertebrates (anaspids and furcacaudiid thelodonts), including: a fixed open gape, reduced snout, and enlarged branchial region. However, no homology exists in individual skull elements between these taxa, and most of the modified elements in the mutant zebrafish occur outside known expression domains of nkx3.2 . Therefore, we interpret the adult nkx3.2 phenotype not as a reversal to an ancestral state, but as convergence due to similar functional requirement of feeding without moveable jaws. This remarkable convergence strongly suggests that jaw movements themselves dramatically influence the development of jawed vertebrate skulls, which implies that functionally viable skull morphologies are finite, with or without functional jaws. Because nkx3.2 null zebrafish display prominent joint ankylosis, drastically modified skull shape, and altered feeding behaviors, these mutants provide a unique model with which to investigate mechanisms of skeletal remodeling and joint diseases.

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