Minireview: On the homology of the protocoel in Cephalochordata and ‘lower’ Deuterostomia
Hypotheses regarding the homology of the protocoel in planktonic deuterostome larvae and mesodermal structures in ontogenetic stages of cephalochordates are evaluated. The prevalent ‘classical’ hypothesis describes the protocoel as being homologous with the diverticula of Hatschek, which, on the left side, develop into the preoral pit, subsequently into Hatschek’s pit and groove (in part). This hypothesis is based mainly on the position of Hatschek’s diverticula anterior to the rest of the mesoderm during their enterocoelic origin. It is shown here that during development the mesodermal segment that develops into Hatschek’s nephridium is the most anterior one prior to formation of Hatschek’s diverticula, and this segment assumes an anteriormost position after differentiation of Hatschek’s diverticula. Additional similarities between this segment and protocoels are: (i) presence of endomesodermal cells with podocytic extensions, (ii) excretory function, (iii) relatively early ontogenetic origin, (iv) probable lack of association with nervous structures, (v) probable ectodermal origin of a portion of the canal, and (vi) position relative to the mouth opening. Therefore, homology between the protocoel and the segment that becomes Hatschek’s nephridium is proposed. It is concluded that a glandular structure homologous to the diverticula of Hatschek and anterior to the protocoel/Hatschek’s nephridium is a synapomorphy of notochordates or chordates.