MDPI, Genes, 12(10), p. 985, 2019
Signalling molecules and their cognate receptors are central components of the Metazoa endocrine system. Defining their presence or absence in extant animal lineages is critical to accurately devise evolutionary patterns, physiological shifts and the impact of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Here, we address the evolution of retinoic acid (RA) signalling in the Priapulida worm, Priapulus caudatus Lamarck, 1816, an Ecdysozoa. RA signalling has been shown to be central to chordate endocrine homeostasis, participating in multiple developmental and physiological processes. Priapulids, with their slow rate of molecular evolution and phylogenetic position, represent a key taxon to investigate the early phases of Ecdysozoa evolution. By exploring a draft genome assembly, we show, by means of phylogenetics and functional assays, that an orthologue of the nuclear receptor retinoic acid receptor (RAR) subfamily, a central mediator of RA signalling, is present in Ecdysozoa, contrary to previous perception. We further demonstrate that the Priapulida RAR displays low-affinity for retinoids (similar to annelids), and is not responsive to common endocrine disruptors acting via RAR. Our findings provide a timeline for RA signalling evolution in the Bilateria and give support to the hypothesis that the increase in RA affinity towards RAR is a late acquisition in the evolution of the Metazoa.