Serotonin is a clinically important neurotransmitter regulating diverse aspects of cognitive function, sleep, mood, and appetite. Increasingly, it is becoming appreciated that serotonin signaling among non-neuronal cells is a novel patterning mechanism existing throughout diverse phyla. Here, we review the evidence implicating serotonergic signaling in embryonic morphogenesis, including gastrulation, craniofacial and bone patterning, and the generation of left-right asymmetry. We propose two models suggesting movement of neurotransmitter molecules as a novel mechanism for how bioelectrical events may couple to downstream signaling cascades and gene activation networks. The discovery of serotonin-dependent patterning events occurring long before the development of the nervous system opens exciting new avenues for future research in evolutionary, developmental, and clinical biology.
Copyright 2006 S. Karger AG, Basel.