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Front Zool. 2009 Jun 9;6:10. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-6-10.

Comparative morphology of the axial complex and interdependence of internal organ systems in sea urchins (Echinodermata: Echinoidea).

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1
Institut für Immungenetik, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Thielallee 73, 14195 Berlin, Germany. alexander.ziegler@charite.de.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The axial complex of echinoderms (Echinodermata) is composed of various primary and secondary body cavities that interact with each other. In sea urchins (Echinoidea), structural differences of the axial complex in "regular" and irregular species have been observed, but the reasons underlying these differences are not fully understood. In addition, a better knowledge of axial complex diversity could not only be useful for phylogenetic inferences, but improve also an understanding of the function of this enigmatic structure.

RESULTS:

We therefore analyzed numerous species of almost all sea urchin orders by magnetic resonance imaging, dissection, histology, and transmission electron microscopy and compared the results with findings from published studies spanning almost two centuries. These combined analyses demonstrate that the axial complex is present in all sea urchin orders and has remained structurally conserved for a long time, at least in the "regular" species. Within the Irregularia, a considerable morphological variation of the axial complex can be observed with gradual changes in topography, size, and internal architecture. These modifications are related to the growing size of the gastric caecum as well as to the rearrangement of the morphology of the digestive tract as a whole.

CONCLUSION:

The structurally most divergent axial complex can be observed in the highly derived Atelostomata in which the reorganization of the digestive tract is most pronounced. Our findings demonstrate a structural interdependence of various internal organs, including digestive tract, mesenteries, and the axial complex.

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