Journal Article

Syncytial nerve net in a ctenophore adds insights on the evolution of nervous systems


A fundamental breakthrough in neurobiology has been the formulation of the neuron doctrine by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, which stated that the nervous system is composed of discrete cells. Electron microscopy later confirmed the doctrine and allowed the identification of synaptic connections. In this work, we used volume electron microscopy and three-dimensional reconstructions to characterize the nerve net of a ctenophore, a marine invertebrate that belongs to one of the earliest-branching animal lineages. We found that neurons in the subepithelial nerve net have a continuous plasma membrane that forms a syncytium. Our findings suggest fundamental differences of nerve net architectures between ctenophores and cnidarians or bilaterians and offer an alternative perspective on neural network organization and neurotransmission.

Attached files


Burkhardt, Pawel
Colgren, Jeffrey
Medhus, Astrid
Digel, Leonid
Naumann, Benjamin
Soto-Angel, Joan J.
Nordmann, Eva-Lena
Sachkova, Maria Y.
Kittelmann, Maike

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Biological and Medical Sciences


Year of publication: 2023
Date of RADAR deposit: 2023-05-02

“This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here by permission of the AAAS for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Science, vol. 380, issue 664, on 20 April 2023."

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