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Carlos A. Díaz-Balzac and José E. García-Arrarás

The nervous system of echinoderms has been studied for well over a century. Nonetheless, the information available is disparate, with in-depth descriptions for the nervous component of some groups or of particular organs while scant data is available for others. The best studied representatives to date are the nervous system of echinoid embryos and larva, and the adult holothurian nervous system. Although described sometimes inaccurately as a neural net, the echinoderm nervous system consists of well-defined neural structures. This is observed since early embryogenesis when activation of the anterior neuroectoderm gene regulatory networks initiate the formation of the embryonic nervous system. This system then undergoes expansion and differentiation to form the larval nervous system, which is centered on the ciliary bands. This “simpler” nervous system is then metamorphosed into the adult echinoderm nervous system. The adult echinoderm nervous system is composed of a central nervous system made up of a nerve ring connected to a series of radial nerve cords. Peripheral nerves extending from the radial nerve cords or nerve ring connect with the peripheral nervous system, located in other organs or effectors including the viscera, podia, body wall muscles, and connective tissue. Both the central and peripheral nervous systems are composed of complex and diverse subdivisions. These are mainly characterized by the expression of neurotransmitters, namely acetylcholine, catecholamines, histamine, amino acids, GABA, and neuropeptides. Other areas of interest include the amazing regenerative capabilities of echinoderms that have been shown to be able to regenerate their nervous system components; and the analysis of the echinoderm genome that has provided essential insights into the molecular basis of how echinoderms develop an adult pentaradial symmetry from bilaterally symmetric larvae and the role of the nervous system in this process.


Asymmetry of bilateral visual and auditory sensors has functional advantages for depth visual perception and localization of auditory signals, respectively. In order to detect the spatial distribution of an odor, bilateral olfactory organs may compare side differences of odor intensity and timing by using a simultaneous sampling mechanism; alternatively, they may use a sequential sampling mechanism to compare spatial and temporal input detected by one or several chemosensors. Extensive research on strategies and mechanisms necessary for odor source localization has been focused mainly on invertebrates. Several recent studies in mammals such as moles, rodents, and humans suggest that there is an evolutionary advantage in using stereo olfaction for successful navigation towards an odor source. Smelling in stereo or a three-dimensional olfactory space may significantly reduce the time to locate an odor source; this quality provides instantaneous information for both foraging and predator avoidance. However, since mammals are capable of finding odor sources and tracking odor trails with one sensor side blocked, they may use an intriguing temporal mechanism to compare odor concentration from sniff to sniff. A particular focus of this article is attributed to differences between insects and mammals regarding the use of unilateral versus bilateral chemosensors for odor source localization.


Nathaniel J. Himmel, Atit A. Patel, and Daniel N. Cox

Nociception is a protective mechanism that mediates behavioral responses to a range of potentially damaging stimuli, including noxious temperature, chemicals, and mechanical stimulation. Nociceptive mechanisms are found throughout metazoans. Noxious stimuli are transduced by specialized, high-threshold peripheral nociceptors, which fire action potentials to elicit adaptive behavioral responses. Nociception is essential for survival and provides a mechanism for sensory perception of noxious stimuli, which alerts the organism to potential environmental dangers. When coupled with pain sensation and complex behavioral responses, this mechanism protects the organism from incipient damage. Moreover, acute and chronic pain may manifest as altered nociception in neuropathic pain states. Elucidating the neural bases of nociception is therefore important for identifying and implementing novel strategies for the treatment of neuropathic pain, as well as uncovering the mechanistic bases by which the nervous system integrates information to produce specific behaviors in response to a range of noxious stimuli. Invertebrate organisms, such as Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans, have emerged as powerful, genetically tractable platforms for exploring these questions. Here, we concisely review the current state of knowledge regarding the cells, molecules, neural circuits, and behaviors associated with invertebrate nociception in the fruit fly and nematode worm.