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Use of axonal projection patterns for the homologisation of cerebral nerves in Opisthobranchia, (Mollusca, Gastropoda)

Annette Klussmann-Kolb1*, Roger P Croll2 and Sid Staubach1

Author Affiliations

1 Biosciences, Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Phylogeny and Systematics group, Goethe University, Max-von-Laue-Straße 13, 60438, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

2 Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

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Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:20  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-10-20

Published: 18 April 2013



Gastropoda are guided by several sensory organs in the head region, referred to as cephalic sensory organs (CSOs). These CSOs are innervated by distinct nerves. This study proposes a unified terminology for the cerebral nerves and the categories of CSOs and then investigates the neuroanatomy and cellular innervation patterns of these cerebral nerves, in order to homologise them. The homologisation of the cerebral nerves in conjunction with other data, e.g. ontogenetic development or functional morphology, may then provide insights into the homology of the CSOs themselves.


Nickel-lysine axonal tracing (“backfilling”) was used to stain the somata projecting into specific nerves in representatives of opisthobranch Gastropoda. Tracing patterns revealed the occurrence, size and relative position of somata and their axons and enabled these somata to be mapped to specific cell clusters. Assignment of cells to clusters followed a conservative approach based primarily on relative location of the cells. Each of the four investigated cerebral nerves could be uniquely identified due to a characteristic set of soma clusters projecting into the respective nerves via their axonal pathways.


As the described tracing patterns are highly conserved morphological characters, they can be used to homologise nerves within the investigated group of gastropods. The combination of adequate number of replicates and a comparative approach allows us to provide preliminary hypotheses on homologies for the cerebral nerves. Based on the hypotheses regarding cerebral nerve homology together with further data on ultrastructure and immunohistochemistry of CSOs published elsewhere, we can propose preliminary hypotheses regarding homology for the CSOs of the Opisthobranchia themselves.

Opisthobranchia; Cephalic sensory organs; CSO; Cerebral nerves; Axonal tracing; Homology