Although developmental regulation by long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) appears to be a widespread feature amongst animals, the origin and level of evolutionary conservation of this mode of regulation remain unclear. We have previously demonstrated that the sponge Amphimedon queenslandica
—a morphologically-simple animal—developmentally expresses an array of lncRNAs in manner akin to more complex bilaterians (insects + vertebrates). Here, we first show that Amphimedon
lncRNAs are expressed in specific cell types in larvae, juveniles and adults. Thus, as in bilaterians, sponge developmental regulation involves the dynamic, cell type- and context-specific regulation of specific lncRNAs. Second, by comparing gene co-expression networks between Amphimedon queenslandica
and Sycon ciliatum
—a distantly-related calcisponge—we identify several putative co-expression modules that appear to be shared in sponges; these network-embedded sponge lncRNAs have no discernable sequence similarity. Together, these results suggest sponge lncRNAs are developmentally regulated and operate in conserved gene regulatory networks, as appears to be the case in more complex bilaterians.
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