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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.

Schubert, M, Holland LZ, Stokes MD, Holland ND.  2001.  Three amphioxus Wnt genes (AmphiWnt3, AmphiWnt5, and AmphiWnt6) associated with the tail bud: The evolution of somitogenesis in chordates. Developmental Biology. 240:262-273.   10.1006/dbio.2001.0460   AbstractWebsite

The amphioxus tail bud is similar to the amphibian tail bud in having an epithelial organization without a mesenchymal component. We characterize three amphioxus Wnt genes (AmphiWnt3, AmphiWnt5, and AmphiWnt6) and show that their early expression around the blastopore can subsequently be traced into the tail bud; in vertebrate embryos, there is a similar progression of expression domains for Wnt3, Wnt5, and Wnt6 genes from the blastopore lip (or its equivalent) to the tail bud. In amphioxus, AmphiWnt3, AmphiWnt5, and AmphiWnt6 are each expressed in a specific subregion of the tail bud, tentatively suggesting that a combinatorial code of developmental gene expression may help generate specific tissues during posterior elongation and somitogenesis. In spite of similarities within their tail buds, vertebrate and amphioxus embryos differ markedly in the relation between the tail bud and the nascent somites: vertebrates have a relatively extensive zone of unsegmented mesenchyme (i.e., presomitic mesoderm) intervening between the tail bud and the forming somites, whereas the amphioxus tail bud gives rise to new somites directly. It is likely that presomitic mesoderm is a vertebrate innovation made possible by developmental interconversions between epithelium and mesenchyme that first became prominent at the dawn of vertebrate evolution. (C) 2001 Academic Press.