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Arthropod Struct Dev. 2003 Aug;32(1):141-56.

The urbilaterian brain: developmental insights into the evolutionary origin of the brain in insects and vertebrates.

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  • 1Institute of Zoology, Biozentrum/Pharmazentrum, University of Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 50, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.


Classical phylogenetic, neuroanatomical and neuroembryological studies propose an independent evolutionary origin of the brains of insects and vertebrates. Contrasting with this, data from three sets of molecular and genetic analyses indicate that the developmental program of brains of insects and vertebrates might be highly conserved and suggest a monophyletic origin of the brain of protostomes and deuterostomes. First, recent results of molecular phylogeny imply that none of the currently living animals correspond to evolutionary intermediates between protostomes and deuterostomes, thus making it impossible to infer the morphological organization of an ancestral bilaterian brain from living specimens. Second, recent molecular genetic evidence provides support for the body axis inversion hypothesis, which implies that a dorsoventral inversion of the body axis occurred in protostomes versus deuterostomes, leading to the inverted location of neurogenic regions in these animal groups. Third, recent developmental genetic analyses are uncovering the existence of structurally and functionally homologous genes that have comparable and interchangeable functions in early brain development in insect and vertebrate model systems. Thus, development of the anteriormost part of the embryonic brain in both insects and vertebrates depends upon the otd/Otx and ems/Emx genes; development of the posterior part of the embryonic brain in both insects and vertebrates involves homologous control genes of the Hox cluster. These findings, which demonstrate the conserved expression and function of key patterning genes involved in embryonic brain development in insects and vertebrates support the hypothesis that the brains of protostomes and deuterostomes are of monophyletic, urbilaterian origin.

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