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Front Zool. 2013 Sep 5;10(1):52. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-52.

Evolution of clitellate phaosomes from rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells of polychaetes - a study in the leech Helobdella robusta (Annelida, Sedentaria, Clitellata).

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1
Universität Osnabrück, Zoologie, Osnabrück 49069, Germany. purschke@biologie.uni-osnabrueck.de.

Abstract

INTRODUCTION:

In Annelida two types of photoreceptor cells (PRCs) are regarded as generally present, rhabdomeric and ciliary PRCs. In certain taxa, however, an additional type of PRC may occur, the so called phaosomal PRC. Whereas the former two types of PRCs are always organized as an epithelium with their sensory processes projecting into an extracellular cavity formed by the PRCs and (pigmented) supportive cells, phaosomes are seemingly intracellular vacuoles housing the sensory processes. Phaosomal PRCs are the only type of PRC found in one major annelid group, Clitellata. Several hypotheses have been put forward explaining the evolutionary origin of the clitellate phaosomes. To elucidate the evolution of clitellate PRC and eyes the leech Helobdella robusta, for which a sequenced genome is available, was chosen.

RESULTS:

TEM observations showed that extraocular and ocular PRCs are structurally identical. Bioinformatic analyses revealed predictions for four opsin genes, three of which could be amplified. All belong to the rhabdomeric opsin family and phylogenetic analyses showed them in a derived position within annelid opsins. Gene expression studies showed two of them expressed in the eye and in the extraocular PRCs. Polychaete eye-typic key enzymes for ommochromme and pterin shading pigments synthesis are not expressed in leech eyes.

CONCLUSIONS:

By comparative gene-expression studies we herein provide strong evidence that the phaosomal PRCs typical of Clitellata are derived from the rhabdomeric PRCs characteristic for polychaete adult eyes. Thus, they represent a highly derived type of PRC that evolved in the stem lineage of Clitellata rather than another, primitive type of PRC in Metazoa. Evolution of these PRCs in Clitellata is related to a loss of the primary eyes and most of their photoreceptive elements except for the rhabdomeric PRCs. Most likely this happened while changing to an endobenthic mode of life. This hypothesis of PRC evolution is in accordance with a recently published phylogeny of Annelida based on phylogenomic data. The data provide a nice example how morphologically highly divergent light sensitive structures emerged from a standard type of photoreceptor cell.

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