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Holland, LZ.  2015.  Evolution of basal deuterostome nervous systems. Journal of Experimental Biology. 218:637-645.   10.1242/jeb.109108   AbstractWebsite

Understanding the evolution of deuterostome nervous systems has been complicated by the by the ambiguous phylogenetic position of the Xenocoelomorpha (Xenoturbellids, acoel flat worms, nemertodermatids), which has been placed either as basal bilaterians, basal deuterostomes or as a sister group to the hemichordate/echinoderm clade (Ambulacraria), which is a sister group of the Chordata. None of these groups has a single longitudinal nerve cord and a brain. A further complication is that echinoderm nerve cords are not likely to be evolutionarily related to the chordate central nervous system. For hemichordates, opinion is divided as to whether either one or none of the two nerve cords is homologous to the chordate nerve cord. In chordates, opposition by two secreted signaling proteins, bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) and Nodal, regulates partitioning of the ectoderm into central and peripheral nervous systems. Similarly, in echinoderm larvae, opposition between BMP and Nodal positions the ciliary band and regulates its extent. The apparent loss of this opposition in hemichordates is, therefore, compatible with the scenario, suggested by Dawydoff over 65 years ago, that a true centralized nervous system was lost in hemichordates.

Holland, LZ, Carvalho JE, Escriva H, Laudet V, Schubert M, Shimeld SM, Yu JK.  2013.  Evolution of bilaterian central nervous systems: a single origin? Evodevo. 4   10.1186/2041-9139-4-27   AbstractWebsite

The question of whether the ancestral bilaterian had a central nervous system (CNS) or a diffuse ectodermal nervous system has been hotly debated. Considerable evidence supports the theory that a CNS evolved just once. However, an alternative view proposes that the chordate CNS evolved from the ectodermal nerve net of a hemichordate-like ancestral deuterostome, implying independent evolution of the CNS in chordates and protostomes. To specify morphological divisions along the anterior/posterior axis, this ancestor used gene networks homologous to those patterning three organizing centers in the vertebrate brain: the anterior neural ridge, the zona limitans intrathalamica and the isthmic organizer, and subsequent evolution of the vertebrate brain involved elaboration of these ancestral signaling centers; however, all or part of these signaling centers were lost from the CNS of invertebrate chordates. The present review analyzes the evidence for and against these theories. The bulk of the evidence indicates that a CNS evolved just once - in the ancestral bilaterian. Importantly, in both protostomes and deuterostomes, the CNS represents a portion of a generally neurogenic ectoderm that is internalized and receives and integrates inputs from sensory cells in the remainder of the ectoderm. The expression patterns of genes involved in medio/lateral (dorso/ventral) patterning of the CNS are similar in protostomes and chordates; however, these genes are not similarly expressed in the ectoderm outside the CNS. Thus, their expression is a better criterion for CNS homologs than the expression of anterior/posterior patterning genes, many of which (for example, Hox genes) are similarly expressed both in the CNS and in the remainder of the ectoderm in many bilaterians. The evidence leaves hemichordates in an ambiguous position - either CNS centralization was lost to some extent at the base of the hemichordates, or even earlier, at the base of the hemichordates + echinoderms, or one of the two hemichordate nerve cords is homologous to the CNS of protostomes and chordates. In any event, the presence of part of the genetic machinery for the anterior neural ridge, the zona limitans intrathalamica and the isthmic organizer in invertebrate chordates together with similar morphology indicates that these organizers were present, at least in part, at the base of the chordates and were probably elaborated upon in the vertebrate lineage.

Holland, LZ.  2002.  Heads or tails? Amphioxus and the evolution of anterior-posterior patterning in deuterostomes Developmental Biology. 241:209-228.   10.1006/dbio.2001.0503   AbstractWebsite

In Xenopus, the canonical Wnt-signaling pathway acting through (beta-catenin functions both in establishing the dorso-ventral axis and in patterning the anterior-posterior axis. This pathway also acts in patterning the animal-vegetal axis in sea urchins. However, because sea urchin development is typically indirect, and adult sea urchins have pentamerous symmetry and lack a longitudinal nerve cord, it has not been clear how the roles of the canonical Wnt-signaling pathway in axial patterning in sea urchins and vertebrates are evolutionarily related. The developmental expression patterns of Notch, brachyury, caudal, and eight Wnt genes have now been determined for the invertebrate chordate amphioxus, which, like sea urchins, has an early embryo that gastrulates by invagination, but like vertebrates, has a later embryo with a dorsal hollow nerve cord that elongates posteriorly from a tail bud. Comparisons of amphioxus with other deuterostomes suggest that patterning of the ancestral deuterostome embryo along its anterior-posterior axis during the late blastula and subsequent stages involved a posterior signaling center including Writs, Notch, and transcription factors such as brachyury and caudal. In tunicate embryos, in which cell numbers are reduced and cell fates largely determined during cleavage stages, only vestiges of this signaling center are still apparent; these include localization of Wnt-5 mRNA to the posterior cytoplasm shortly after fertilization and localization of beta-catenin to vegetal nuclei during cleavage stages. Neither in tunicates nor in amphioxus is there any evidence that the canonical Wnt-signaling pathway functions in establishment of the dorso-ventral axis. Thus, roles for Wnt-signaling in dorso-ventral patterning of embryos may be a vertebrate innovation that arose in connection with the evolution of yolky eggs and gastrulation by extensive involution. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science.