Insights into the skin of caecilian amphibians from gene expression profiles

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Background: Gene expression profiles can provide insights into the molecular machinery behind tissue functions and, in turn, can further our understanding of environmental responses, and developmental and evolutionary processes. During vertebrate evolution, the skin has played a crucial role, displaying a wide diversity of essential functions. To unravel the molecular basis of skin specialisations and adaptations, we compared gene expression in the skin with eight other tissues in a phylogenetically and ecologically diverse species sample of one of the most neglected vertebrate groups, the caecilian amphibians (order Gymnophiona). Results: The skin of the five studied caecilian species showed a distinct gene expression profile reflecting its developmental origin and showing similarities to other epithelial tissues. We identified 59 sequences with conserved enhanced expression in the skin that might be associated with caecilian dermal specialisations. Some of the upregulated genes shared expression patterns with human skin and potentially are involved in skin functions across vertebrates. Variation trends in gene expression were detected between mid and posterior body skin suggesting different functions between body regions. Several candidate biologically active peptides were also annotated. Conclusions: Our study provides the first atlas of differentially expressed sequences in caecilian tissues and a baseline to explore the molecular basis of the skin functions in caecilian amphibians, and more broadly in vertebrates.