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Directional left/right (LR) asymmetries, in which there are consistent, heritable differences in morphology between the left and right sides of bilaterally symmetrical organisms, are found in animals across the Bilateria. For many years, we have lacked evidence for shared mechanisms underlying their development. This led to the supposition that the mechanisms driving establishment of LR asymmetries, and consequently the asymmetries themselves, had evolved separately in the three major Superphyla that constitute the Bilateria. The recent discovery that the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-B) ligand Nodal plays a role in the regulation of LR asymmetry in both Deuterostomia and Lophotrochozoa has reignited debate in this field, as it suggests that at least this aspect of the development of the LR axis is conserved. In this review, we discuss evidence for shared mechanisms of LR asymmetry establishment across the bilaterian tree of life and consider how these mechanisms might have diverged across the Metazoa over the last 500 million years or so of evolution. As well as the likelihood that Nodal is an ancestral mechanism for regulating LR asymmetry, we reemphasize cytoskeletal architecture as a potential shared mechanism underlying symmetry breaking. However, convergent evolution remains a distinct possibility and study of a wider diversity of species will be needed to distinguish between conserved and lineage-specific mechanisms. genesis 52:458-470, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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Journal article



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458 - 470