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Open Access Research article

Development of the nervous system in Phoronopsis harmeri (Lophotrochozoa, Phoronida) reveals both deuterostome- and trochozoan-like features

Elena Temereva1 and Andreas Wanninger2*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Invertebrate Zoology, Biological faculty, Moscow State University, Moscow, 119991, Russia

2 Dept. of Integrative Zoology, University of Vienna, Althanstr 14, 1090, Vienna, Austria

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:121  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-121

Published: 24 July 2012



Inferences concerning the evolution of invertebrate nervous systems are often hampered by the lack of a solid data base for little known but phylogenetically crucial taxa. In order to contribute to the discussion concerning the ancestral neural pattern of the Lophotrochozoa (a major clade that includes a number of phyla that exhibit a ciliated larva in their life cycle), we investigated neurogenesis in Phoronopsis harmeri, a member of the poorly studied Phoronida, by using antibody staining against serotonin and FMRFamide in combination with confocal microscopy and 3D reconstruction software.


The larva of Phoronopsis harmeri exhibits a highly complex nervous system, including an apical organ that consists of four different neural cell types, such as numerous serotonin-like immunoreactive flask-shaped cells. In addition, serotonin- and FMRFamide-like immunoreactive bi- or multipolar perikarya that give rise to a tentacular neurite bundle which innervates the postoral ciliated band are found. The preoral ciliated band is innervated by marginal serotonin-like as well as FMRFamide-like immunoreactive neurite bundles. The telotroch is innervated by two neurite bundles. The oral field is the most densely innervated area and contains ventral and ventro-lateral neurite bundles as well as several groups of perikarya. The digestive system is innervated by both serotonin- and FMRFamide-like immunoreactive neurites and perikarya. Importantly, older larvae of P. harmeri show a paired ventral neurite bundle with serial commissures and perikarya.


Serotonin-like flask-shaped cells such as the ones described herein for Phoronopsis harmeri are found in the majority of lophotrochozoan larvae and therefore most likely belong to the ground pattern of the last common lophotrochozoan ancestor. The finding of a transitory paired ventral neurite bundle with serially repeated commissures that disappears during metamorphosis suggests that such a structure was part of the “ur-phoronid” nervous system, but was lost in the adult stage, probably due to its acquired sessile benthic lifestyle.

Neurogenesis; Evolution; Phylogeny; Ventral nerve cord; Last common lophotrochozoan ancestor