, Volume 209, Issue 3, pp 198-205

Origin of the chordate central nervous system – and the origin of chordates

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Abstract

 Contrary to traditional views, molecular evidence indicates that the protostomian ventral nerve cord plus apical brain is homologous with the vertebrates’ dorsal spinal cord plus brain. The origin of the protostomian central nervous system from a larval apical organ plus longitudinal areas along the fused blastopore lips has been documented in many species. The origin of the chordate central nervous system is more enigmatic. About a century ago, Garstang proposed that the ciliary band of a dipleurula-type larva resembling an echinoderm larva should have moved dorsally and fused to form the neural tube of the ancestral chordate. This idea is in contrast to a number of morphological observations, and it is here proposed that the neural tube evolved through lateral fusion of a ventral, postoral loop of the ciliary band in a dipleurula larva; the stomodaeum should move from the ventral side via the anterior end to the dorsal side, which faces the substratum in cephalo- chordates and vertebrates. This is in accordance with the embryological observations and with the molecular data on the dorsoventral orientation. The molecular observations further indicate that the anterior part of the insect brain is homologous with the anterior parts of the vertebrate brain. This leads to the hypothesis that the two organs evolved from the same area in the latest common bilaterian ancestor, just anterior to the blastopore, with the protostome brain developing from the anterior rim of the blastopore (i.e. in front of the protostome mouth) and the chordate brain from an area in front of the blastopore, but behind the mouth (i.e. behind the deuterostome mouth).

Received: 28 August 1998 / Accepted: 14 November 1998