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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Dec 28;107(52):22576-81. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1008822108. Epub 2010 Dec 13.

Expression patterns of neural genes in Euperipatoides kanangrensis suggest divergent evolution of onychophoran and euarthropod neurogenesis.

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School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, London E1 4NS, United Kingdom.


One of the controversial debates on euarthropod relationships centers on the question as to whether insects, crustaceans, and myriapods (Mandibulata) share a common ancestor or whether myriapods group with the chelicerates (Myriochelata). The debate was stimulated recently by studies in chelicerates and myriapods that show that neural precursor groups (NPGs) segregate from the neuroectoderm generating the nervous system, whereas in insects and crustaceans the nervous tissue is produced by stem cells. Do the shared neural characters of myriapods and chelicerates represent derived characters that support the Myriochelata grouping? Or do they rather reflect the ancestral pattern? Analyses of neurogenesis in a group closely related to euarthropods, the onychophorans, show that, similar to insects and crustaceans, single neural precursors are formed in the neuroectoderm, potentially supporting the Myriochelata hypothesis. Here we show that the nature and the selection of onychophoran neural precursors are distinct from euarthropods. The onychophoran nervous system is generated by the massive irregular segregation of single neural precursors, contrasting with the limited number and stereotyped arrangement of NPGs/stem cells in euarthropods. Furthermore, neural genes do not show the spatiotemporal pattern that sets up the precise position of neural precursors as in euarthropods. We conclude that neurogenesis in onychophorans largely does not reflect the ancestral pattern of euarthropod neurogenesis, but shows a mixture of derived characters and ancestral characters that have been modified in the euarthropod lineage. Based on these data and additional evidence, we suggest an evolutionary sequence of arthropod neurogenesis that is in line with the Mandibulata hypothesis.

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