The centralized nervous systems of bilaterian animals rely on directional signaling facilitated by polarized neurons with specialized axons and dendrites. It is not known whether axodendritic polarity is exclusive to bilaterians or was already present in early metazoans. We therefore examined neurite polarity in the starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis (Cnidaria). Cnidarians form a sister clade to bilaterians and share many neuronal building blocks characteristic of bilaterians, including channels, receptors and synaptic proteins, but their nervous systems comprise a comparatively simple net distributed throughout the body. We developed a tool kit of fluorescent polarity markers for live imaging analysis of polarity in an identified neuron type, large ganglion cells of the body column nerve net that express the LWamide-like neuropeptide. Microtubule polarity differs in bilaterian axons and dendrites, and this in part underlies polarized distribution of cargo to the two types of processes. However, in LWamide-like+ neurons, all neurites had axon-like microtubule polarity suggesting that they may have similar contents. Indeed, presynaptic and postsynaptic markers trafficked to all neurites and accumulated at varicosities where neurites from different neurons often crossed, suggesting the presence of bidirectional synaptic contacts. Furthermore, we could not identify a diffusion barrier in the plasma membrane of any of the neurites like the axon initial segment barrier that separates the axonal and somatodendritic compartments in bilaterian neurons. We conclude that at least one type of neuron in Nematostella vectensis lacks the axo-dendritic polarity characteristic of bilaterian neurons.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Molecular Biology
- Insect Science