Owenia fusiformis – a basally branching annelid suitable for studying ancestral features of annelid neural development
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Background Comparative investigations on bilaterian neurogenesis shed light on conserved developmental mechanisms across taxa. With respect to annelids, most studies focus on taxa deeply nested within the annelid tree, while investigations on early branching groups are almost lacking. According to recent phylogenomic data on annelid evolution Oweniidae represent one of the basally branching annelid clades. Oweniids are thought to exhibit several plesiomorphic characters, but are scarcely studied - a fact that might be caused by the unique morphology and unusual metamorphosis of the mitraria larva, which seems to be hardly comparable to other annelid larva. In our study, we compare the development of oweniid neuroarchitecture with that of other annelids aimed to figure out whether oweniids may represent suitable study subjects to unravel ancestral patterns of annelid neural development. Our study provides the first data on nervous system development in basally branching annelids. Results Based on histology, electron microscopy and immunohistochemical investigations we show that development and metamorphosis of the mitraria larva has many parallels to other annelids irrespective of the drastic changes in body shape during metamorphosis. Such significant changes ensuing metamorphosis are mainly from diminution of a huge larval blastocoel and not from major restructuring of body organization. The larval nervous system features a prominent apical organ formed by flask-shaped perikarya and circumesophageal connectives that interconnect the apical and trunk nervous systems, in addition to serially arranged clusters of perikarya showing 5-HT-LIR in the ventral nerve cord, and lateral nerves. Both 5-HT-LIR and FMRFamide-LIR are present in a distinct nerve ring underlying the equatorial ciliary band. The connections arising from these cells innervate the circumesophageal connectives as well as the larval brain via dorsal and ventral neurites. Notably, no distinct somata with 5-HT -LIR in the apical organ are detectable in the larval stages of Owenia. Most of the larval neural elements including parts of the apical organ are preserved during metamorphosis and contribute to the juvenile nervous system. Conclusions Our studies in Owenia fusiformis strongly support that early branching annelids are comparable to other annelids with regard to larval neuroanatomy and formation of the juvenile nervous system. Therefore, Owenia fusiformis turns out to be a valuable study subject for comparative investigations and unravelling ancestral processes in neural development in Annelida and Bilateria in general.