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Annu Rev Entomol. 2008;53:253-71.

Diversity and evolution of the insect ventral nerve cord.

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Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama City, Republic of Panama.


Is the remarkable diversity in the behavior of insects reflected in the organization of their nervous systems? The ventral nerve cords (VNCs) have been described from over 300 insect species covering all the major orders. Interpreting these data in the context of phylogenetic relationships reveals remarkable diversity. The presumed ancestral VNC structure is rarely observed; instead the VNCs of most insects show extensive modification and substantial convergence. Modifications include shifts in neuromere positions, their fusion to form composite ganglia, and, potentially, their separation to revert to individual ganglia. These changes appear to be facilitated by the developmental and functional modularity of the VNC, a neuromere for each body segment. The differences in VNC structure emphasize trade-offs between behavioral requirements and the costs incurred while maintaining the nervous system and signaling between its various parts. The diversity in structure also shows that nervous systems may undergo dramatic morphological changes during evolution.

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