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J Comp Neurol. 2008 Mar 10;507(2):1196-208. doi: 10.1002/cne.21603.

Distribution of serotonin in the trunk of Metaperipatus blainvillei (Onychophora, Peripatopsidae): implications for the evolution of the nervous system in Arthropoda.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.


Onychophora ("velvet worms") are a key taxon in the discussion of arthropod phylogeny. Studies that analyze neuroanatomical characters against a phylogenetic background have recently provided new insights into this debate. However, to date only a few studies on nervous system organization, particularly in the trunk, are available in Onychophora. To close this gap and to compare the onychophoran nervous system with that of other bilaterians, we have analyzed the pattern of serotonin-like immunoreactivity in Metaperipatus blainvillei (Peripatopsidae). In addition to confirming previous histological observations, our experiments revealed many new aspects of nervous system organization in Onychophora. The serotonergic nervous system of M. blainvillei consists of five longitudinal nerve strands (the paired dorsolateral nerves, the heart nerve, and the paired ventral cords), which are interconnected at regular intervals by ring commissures as well as median commissures. The ring commissures are absent in the leg-bearing regions. In addition to the main nerve tracts, there are several extensive fiber networks innervating the integument, the nephridial organs, and the body musculature. The leg nerves and nephridial nerves represent the only strictly segmental neuronal structures. We conclude that the general architecture of the onychophoran nervous system in the trunk closely resembles the orthogonal organization that is present in various other groups of Bilateria, which suggests that the arthropod nervous system is derived from such an orthogonal pattern. This finding implies that the "rope ladder-like" nervous system may have arisen independently in Panarthropoda and Annelida and does not represent a synapomorphy of these groups.

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