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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 1989 Aug;64(3):221-68.

Stages in the origin of vertebrates: analysis by means of scenarios.


Vertebrates lack an epidermal nerve plexus. This feature is common to many invertebrates from which vertebrates differ by an extensive set of shared-derived characters (synapomorphies) derived from the neural crest and epidermal neurogenic placodes. Hence, the hypothesis that the developmental precursor of the epidermal nerve plexus may be homologous to the neural crest and epidermal neurogenic placodes. This account attempts to generate a nested set of scenarios for the prevertebrate-vertebrate transition, associating a presumed sequence of behavioural and environmental changes with the observed phenotypic ones. Toward this end, it integrates morphological, developmental, functional (physiological/behavioural) and some ecological data, as many phenotypic shifts apparently involved associated transitions in several aspects of the animals. The scenarios deal with the origin of embryonic and adult tissues and such major organs as the notochord, the CNS, grills and kidneys and propose a sequence of associated changes. Alternative scenarios are stated as the evidence often remains insufficient for decision. The analysis points to gaps in comprehension of the biology of the animals and therefore suggests further research.

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