Convergent evolution of bilaterian nerve cords

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Abstract

It has been hypothesized that a condensed nervous system with a medial ventral nerve cord is an ancestral character of Bilateria. The presence of similar dorsoventral molecular patterns along the nerve cords of vertebrates, flies, and an annelid has been interpreted as support for this scenario. Whether these similarities are generally found across the diversity of bilaterian neuroanatomies is unclear, and thus the evolutionary history of the nervous system is still contentious. Here we study representatives of Xenacoelomorpha, Rotifera, Nemertea, Brachiopoda, and Annelida to assess the conservation of the dorsoventral nerve cord patterning. None of the studied species show a conserved dorsoventral molecular regionalization of their nerve cords, not even the annelidOwenia fusiformis, whose trunk neuroanatomy parallels that of vertebrates and flies. Our findings restrict the use of molecular patterns to explain nervous system evolution, and suggest that the similarities in dorsoventral patterning and trunk neuroanatomies evolved independently in Bilateria.

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