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Zoology (Jena). 2004;107(4):261-73.

The nature and significance of invertebrate cartilages revisited: distribution and histology of cartilage and cartilage-like tissues within the Metazoa.

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Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Tissues similar to vertebrate cartilage have been described throughout the Metazoa. Often the designation of tissues as cartilage within non-vertebrate lineages is based upon sparse supporting data. To be considered cartilage, a tissue should meet a number of histological criteria that include composition and organization of the extracellular matrix. To re-evaluate the distribution and structural properties of these tissues, we have re-investigated the histological properties of many of these tissues from fresh material, and review the existing literature on invertebrate cartilages. Chondroid connective tissue is common amongst invertebrates, and differs from invertebrate cartilage in the structure and organization of the cells that comprise it. Groups having extensive chondroid connective tissue include brachiopods, polychaetes, and urochordates. Cartilage is found within cephalopod mollusks, chelicerate arthropods and sabellid polychaetes. Skeletal tissues found within enteropneust hemichordates are unique in that the extracellular matrix shares many properties with vertebrate cartilage, yet these tissues are completely acellular. The possibility that this tissue may represent a new category of cartilage, acellular cartilage, is discussed. Immunoreactivity of some invertebrate cartilages with antibodies that recognize molecules specific to vertebrate bone suggests an intermediate phenotype between vertebrate cartilage and bone. Although cartilage is found within a number of invertebrate lineages, we find that not all tissues previously reported to be cartilage have the appropriate properties to merit their distinction as cartilage.

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