The diversity of nervous systems is enormous. In terms of structural and functional organization as well as in terms of levels of complexity, nervous systems range from the simple peripheral nerve nets found in some of the basal invertebrate taxa to the centralized nervous systems and highly complex brains that characterize vertebrates and cephalopods. Starting in the eighteenth century, numerous attempts were undertaken to reconstruct the evolutionary origin of the diverse nervous system types found in the animal kingdom (see Origin and Evolution of the First Nervous System). However, initially none of these attempts resulted in consensus, in part because of the uncertain and ambiguous nature of the postulated phylogenetic relationships among the various animal groups considered (see Metazoan Phylogeny). At the beginning of the twentieth century, it became evident that the bilaterally symmetrical animals, the Bilateria, could be phylogenetically subdivided into two major branches (Fioroni, 1980). This subdivision of the Bilateria into the protostome and the deuterostome animals remains valid (Brusca and Brusca, 1990)
and has been confirmed by molecular analyses (e.g., Adoutte et al., 2000).
Do the general nervous system types that characterize the protostome and deuterostome animals also follow this binary subdivision? Classical neuroanatomical and embryological studies suggest that this is the case, at least in part. Accordingly, most bilaterian animals can be subdivided into two major groups with different central nervous system (CNS) morphologies. These are the Gastroneuralia, which are characterized by a ventral nerve cord and include major protostome groups such as arthropods, annelids, and mollusks, and the Notoneuralia, which are characterized by a dorsal nerve cord and include all (deuterostome) chordates (e.g., Nielsen, 1995). The two groups often manifest different modes of CNS development. In gastroneuralians such as arthropods, the ganglionic masses detach from the ventral neu-roectoderm to form a rope-ladder nervous system of connectives and commissures, whereas in notoneur-alian chordates the neuroectoderm folds inwardly as a whole to form a neural tube (Figure 1; see A Tale of Two CPGs: Phylogenetically Polymorphic Networks). As a result of the Gastroneuralia/ Notoneuralia subdivision, the notion of an independent evolutionary origin of the CNS of protostomes versus deuterostomes gained general acceptance and accordingly a polyphyletic origin of bilaterian nervous systems was proposed.
The alternative notion, namely, that bilaterian nervous systems might have a common evolutionary origin, was rejected precisely because of the evident dissimilarities in the mode of development, topology, and adult morphology of the nervous systems in major protostome versus deuterostome groups.
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