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The nervous system of Isodiametra pulchra (Acoela) with a discussion on the neuroanatomy of the Xenacoelomorpha and its evolutionary implications

Johannes Georg Achatz12* and Pedro Martinez23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstrasse 25, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria

2 Department of Genetics, University of Barcelona, Av. Diagonal, edifici annex, planta 2a, 08028 Barcelona, Spain

3 Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA), Passeig Lluís Companys 23, 08010, Barcelona, Spain

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Frontiers in Zoology 2012, 9:27  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-9-27

Published: 16 October 2012

Abstract

Introduction

Acoels are microscopic marine worms that have become the focus of renewed debate and research due to their placement at the base of the Bilateria by molecular phylogenies. To date, Isodiametra pulchra is the most promising “model acoel” as it can be cultured and gene knockdown can be performed with double-stranded RNA. Despite its well-known morphology data on the nervous system are scarce. Therefore we examined this organ using various microscopic techniques, including histology, conventional histochemistry, electron microscopy, and immunocytochemistry in combination with CLSM and discuss our results in light of recently established phylogenies.

Results

The nervous system of Isodiametra pulchra consists of a bilobed brain with a dorsal posterior commissure, a frontal ring and tracts, four pairs of longitudinal neurite bundles, as well as a supramuscular and submuscular plexus. Serotonin-like immunoreactivity (SLI) is displayed in parts of the brain, the longitudinal neurite bundles and a large part of the supramuscular plexus, while FMRFamide-like immunoreactivity (RFLI) is displayed in parts of the brain and a distinct set of neurons, the longitudinal neurite bundles and the submuscular plexus. Despite this overlap SLI and RFLI are never colocalized. Most remarkable though is the presence of a distinct functional neuro-muscular system consisting of the statocyst, tracts, motor neurons and inner muscles, as well as the presence of various muscles that differ with regard to their ultrastructure and innervation.

Conclusions

The nervous system of Isodiametra pulchra consists of an insunk, bilobed brain, a peripheral part for perception and innervation of the smooth body-wall musculature as well as tracts and motor neurons that together with pseudostriated inner muscles are responsible for steering and quick movements. The insunk, bilobed brains with two to three commissures found in numerous acoels are homologous and evolved from a ring-commissural brain that was present in the stem species of acoelomorphs. The acoelomorph brain is bipartite, consisting of a Six3/6-dependend animal pole nervous system that persists throughout adulthood and an axial nervous system that does not develop by exhibiting a staggered pattern of conserved regulatory genes as in other bilaterians but by a nested pattern of these genes. This indicates that acoelomorphs stem from an ancestor with a simple brain or with a biphasic life cycle.

Keywords:
Brain; Serotonin; FMRF; Tubulin; Evolution; Phylogeny