New paper in Journal of Experimental Zoology


Characterization of eyes, photoreceptors, and opsins in developmental stages of the arrow worm Spadella cephaloptera (Chaetognatha)

Wollesen TRodriguez Monje SV, Oel AP & Arendt D. 2023.
Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution, 1– 12. Published online 28 February 2023


The phylogenetic position of chaetognaths, or arrow worms, has been debated for decades, however recently they have been grouped into the Gnathifera, a sister clade to all other Spiralia. Chaetognath photoreceptor cells are anatomically unique by exhibiting a highly modified cilium and are arranged differently in the eyes of the various species. Studies investigating eye development and underlying gene regulatory networks are so far missing. To gain insights into the development and the molecular toolkit of chaetognath photoreceptors and eyes a new transcriptome of the epibenthic species Spadella cephaloptera was searched for opsins. Our screen revealed two copies of xenopsin and a single copy of peropsin. Gene expression analyses demonstrated that only xenopsin1 is expressed in photoreceptor cells of the developing lateral eyes. Adults likewise exhibit two xenopsin1 + photoreceptor cells in each of their lateral eyes. Beyond that, a single cryptochrome gene was uncovered and found to be expressed in photoreceptor cells of the lateral developing eye. In addition, cryptochrome is also expressed in the cerebral ganglia in a region in which also peropsin expression was observed. This condition is reminiscent of a nonvisual photoreceptive zone in the apical nervous system of the annelid Platynereis dumerilii that performs circadian entrainment and melatonin release. Cryptochrome is also expressed in cells of the corona ciliata, an organ in the posterior dorsal head region, indicating a role in circadian entrainment. Our study highlights the importance of the Gnathifera for unraveling the evolution of photoreceptors and eyes in Spiralia and Bilateria.