The premetazoan ancestry of the synaptic toolkit and appearance of first neurons
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonEssays in Biochemistry. 2022, 66 (6), 781-795. 10.1042/EBC20220042
Neurons, especially when coupled with muscles, allow animals to interact with and navigate through their environment in ways unique to life on earth. Found in all major animal lineages except sponges and placozoans, nervous systems range widely in organization and complexity, with neurons possibly representing the most diverse cell-type. This diversity has led to much debate over the evolutionary origin of neurons as well as synapses, which allow for the directed transmission of information. The broad phylogenetic distribution of neurons and presence of many of the defining components outside of animals suggests an early origin of this cell type, potentially in the time between the first animal and the last common ancestor of extant animals. Here, we highlight the occurrence and function of key aspects of neurons outside of animals as well as recent findings from non-bilaterian animals in order to make predictions about when and how the first neuron(s) arose during animal evolution and their relationship to those found in extant lineages. With advancing technologies in single cell transcriptomics and proteomics as well as expanding functional techniques in non-bilaterian animals and the close relatives of animals, it is an exciting time to begin unraveling the complex evolutionary history of this fascinating animal cell type.