New paper in Neural Developement


Unfolding the ventral nerve center of chaetognaths.

Ordoñez JF & Wollesen T. 2024. 
Neural Dev 19, 5 (2024). . Published online 8 May 2024


Chaetognaths are a clade of marine worm-like invertebrates with a heavily debated phylogenetic position. Their nervous system superficially resembles the protostome type, however, knowledge regarding the molecular processes involved in neurogenesis is lacking. To better understand these processes, we examined the expression profiles of marker genes involved in bilaterian neurogenesis during post-embryonic stages of Spadella cephaloptera. We also investigated whether the transcription factor encoding genes involved in neural patterning are regionally expressed in a staggered fashion along the mediolateral axis of the nerve cord as it has been previously demonstrated in selected vertebrate, insect, and annelid models.

The expression patterns of genes involved in neural differentiation (elav), neural patterning (foxA, nkx2.2, pax6, pax3/7, and msx), and neuronal function (ChAT and VAChT) were examined in S. cephaloptera hatchlings and early juveniles using whole-mount fluorescent in situ hybridization and confocal microscopy.

The Sce-elav + profile of S. cephaloptera hatchlings reveals that, within 24 h of post-embryonic development, the developing neural territories are not limited to the regions previously ascribed to the cerebral ganglion, the ventral nerve center (VNC), and the sensory organs, but also extend to previously unreported CNS domains that likely contribute to the ventral cephalic ganglia. In general, the neural patterning genes are expressed in distinct neural subpopulations of the cerebral ganglion and the VNC in hatchlings, eventually becoming broadly expressed with reduced intensity throughout the CNS in early juveniles. Neural patterning gene expression domains are also present outside the CNS, including the digestive tract and sensory organs. ChAT and VAChT domains within the CNS are predominantly observed in specific subpopulations of the VNC territory adjacent to the ventral longitudinal muscles in hatchlings.

The observed spatial expression domains of bilaterian neural marker gene homologs in S. cephaloptera suggest evolutionarily conserved roles in neurogenesis for these genes among bilaterians. Patterning genes expressed in distinct regions of the VNC do not show a staggered medial-to-lateral expression profile directly superimposable to other bilaterian models. Only when the VNC is conceptually laterally unfolded from the longitudinal muscle into a flat structure, an expression pattern bearing resemblance to the proposed conserved bilaterian mediolateral regionalization becomes noticeable. This finding supports the idea of an ancestral mediolateral patterning of the trunk nervous system in bilaterians.