Sensory pathways in amphioxus larvae I. Constituent fibres of the rostral and anterodorsal nerves, their targets and evolutionary significance

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Abstract Lacalli, T.C. 2002. Sensory pathways in amphioxus larvae I. Constituent fibres of the rostral and anterodorsal nerves, their targets and evolutionary significance. —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 83: 149–166

Serial and interval electron micrograph series were used to examine the rostral and anterodorsal nerves of 12.5-day-old amphioxus larvae and trace selected fibres to their targets in the nerve cord. The nerves contain a variety of fibre types, including axons from at least two types of epithelial sensory cells and neurites derived from dorsal (Retzius) bipolar cells located within the cord. The rostral epithelial cells form basal synapses with a population of peripheral neurites that probably derive from the dorsal bipolar cells, though other sources are possible. Varicosities containing dense-core vesicles occur at the tip of the rostrum, indicating the presence of efferent innervation at this site. Within the cord, some peripherally derived rostral afferents terminate at the level of the anterior cerebral vesicle, others synapse directly with both motoneurones and the notochord, but those in the largest bundle target the dendrites of the large paired neurones (LPNs) located in the primary motor centre. LPN dendrites also receive synapses from sensory fibres arriving via the anterodorsal nerves, from the anterior-most of the dorsal bipolar cells, referred to here as tectal cells, and from a single fibre derived from the frontal eye. This convergence of multiple inputs accords with other evidence that the LPNs are key intermediaries in the sensorimotor pathway that activates the larval escape response. The rostral nerves are much larger at metamorphosis, but the ventral tracts that derive from them are still comparatively small. This is because the majority of rostral fibres are diverted into a late-developing dorsal tract that travels within the cord to the front end of the dorsolateral neuropile, where most of its fibres disperse and form synapses. The positioning of the dorsal and ventral tracts strongly suggests homology with vertebrate olfactory and terminal nerves, respectively. This, and the question of whether the amphioxus central nervous system has anything comparable to the olfactory bulb, a telencephalic structure, is discussed.
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