Ultrastructure of the subepidermal musculature of Xenoturbella bocki, the adelphotaxon of the Bilateria
Xenoturbella bocki is the only species of the high-ranked taxon Xenoturbellida. The species lives on marine mud bottoms at a depth of 20–120 m and moves extremely slowly by ciliary gliding. Nevertheless it possesses a well-developed body wall musculature with outer circular muscles, a prominent layer of inner longitudinal muscles and radial muscles that extend from the outer circular myocytes to the musculature surrounding the gastrodermis. The longitudinal myocytes are not compact cells, but form fascicles of fibrils running parallel to each other. Fine cytoplasmic cords connect the fibres of a cell to each other and with its nuclear region. The muscles are embedded within a sometimes expansive extracellular matrix (ECM) that lacks any fibrillar components. All muscle cells display conspicuous and numerous cytoplasmic extensions that are intermingled with each other. Tight coupling between adjacent cell membranes is not found, but zonula adhaerens-like junctions exist. Fibrils belonging to different myocytes, but also fibrils of the same cell, are coupled by such cytoplasmic extensions. Circular, radial and at least the peripheral longitudinal myocytes display cell-matrix connections with the internal lamina, a component of the subepidermal ECM. This internal lamina projects down into the centres of the fascicles with longitudinal muscle fibrils and forms extensive attachment zones with the muscle cells, reminiscent of focal contacts. For the ingestion of food, X. bocki opens the simple mouth pore and protrudes the aciliated gastrodermis. The body wall musculature is responsible for this protrusion and also for the withdrawal of the gastrodermis. In the past, possible phylogenetic kinships with the Acoelomorpha (Plathelminthes) or the Enteropneusta and Holothuroidea were discussed, but, on the basis of all information available, X. bocki is hypothesized to be the sister taxon of the Bilateria.
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