The A/P Axis in Echinoderm Ontogeny and Evolution: Evidence From Fossils and Molecules

Evol Dev. Mar-Apr 2000;2(2):93-101. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-142x.2000.00042.x.


Even though echinoderms are members of the Bilateria, the location of their anterior/posterior axis has remained enigmatic. Here we propose a novel solution to the problem employing three lines of evidence: the expression of a posterior class Hox gene in the coeloms of the nascent adult body plan within the larva; the anatomy of certain early fossil echinoderms; and finally the relation between endoskeletal plate morphology and the associated coelomic tissues. All three lines of evidence converge on the same answer, namely that the location of the adult mouth is anterior, and the anterior/posterior axis runs from the mouth through the adult coelomic compartments. This axis then orients the animal such that there is but a single plane of symmetry dividing the animal into left and right halves. We tentatively hypothesize that this plane of symmetry is positioned along the dorsal/ventral axis. These axis identifications lead to the conclusion that the five ambulacra are not primary body axes, but instead are outgrowths from the central anterior/posterior axis. These identifications also shed insight into several other evolutionary mysteries of various echinoderm clades such as the independent evolution of bilateral symmetry in irregular echinoids, but do not elucidate the underlying mechanisms of the adult coelomic architecture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Echinodermata / embryology*
  • Echinodermata / genetics
  • Echinodermata / growth & development*
  • Fossils*
  • Genes, Homeobox