Abstract Entire nervous systems of the dinophilids Dinophilus (two species) and Trilobodrilus (three species) and the dorvilleids Parapodrilus psammophilus and Ophryotrocha gracilis (larva) were stained with antisera directed against serotonin, Phe-Met-Arg-Phe-NH2 (FMRFamide) and acetylated α-tubulin and analysed by confocal laser scanning microscopy (cLSM). Adult dinophilids and the dorvilleid larva exhibit the same structure of the ventral nerve cord, with two main nerves spaced far apart, one median and two paramedian nerves. A serotonergic plexus is situated between the paramedian nerve pair, above the ventral locomotory ciliary band. These similarities between adults and larva corroborate the presumed progenetic origin of dinophilids. However, since larval nervous systems of other polychaete taxa also seem to be organized in this way, this result cannot support the view that dinophilids originate from dorvilleids. In P.psammophilus the main nerve cords are widely separated only in the last segment, indicating that this pattern may be correlated with the absence of parapodia. The unpaired median nerve of dinophilids, P. psammophilus and many other polychaetes, is considered to be part of the basic annelid body plan. The ground pattern of the ventral paired dinophilid ganglia is represented by three (anterior, main, posterior) commissures, conserved in most of the ganglia in the Dinophilus species and mostly reduced to a main commissure in the Trilobodrilus species. The dinophilid species and P. psammophilus possess six pairs of ganglia indicating six trunk segments – in contrast to former views. The two rings behind the prostomium in both the dinophilid and the dorvilleid species contain one pair of ganglia only, corroborating the presumed homology of this peristomial region in the two taxa. The Dinophilus nervous system with 12 longitudinal nerves and three perpendicular nerve rings per segment resembles orthogonal nervous structures characteristic of platyhelminths.