Background: Members of Family Nereididae have complex neural morphology exemplary of errant polychaetes and are leading research models in the investigation of annelid nervous systems. However, few studies focus on the development of their nervous system morphology. Such data are particularly relevant today, as nereidids are the subjects of a growing body of "evo-devo" work concerning bilaterian nervous systems, and detailed knowledge of their developing neuroanatomy facilitates the interpretation of gene expression analyses. In addition, new data are needed to resolve discrepancies between classic studies of nereidid neuroanatomy. We present a neuroanatomical overview based on acetylated alpha-tubulin labeling and confocal microscopy for post-embryonic stages of Neanthes arenaceodentata, a direct-developing nereidid.
Results: At hatching (2-3 chaetigers), the nervous system has developed much of the complexity of the adult (large brain, circumesophageal connectives, nerve cords, segmental nerves), and the stomatogastric nervous system is partially formed. By the 5-chaetiger stage, the cephalic appendages and anal cirri are well innervated and have clear connections to the central nervous system. Within one week of hatching (9-chaetigers), cephalic sensory structures (e.g., nuchal organs, Langdon's organs) and brain substructures (e.g., corpora pedunculata, stomatogastric ganglia) are clearly differentiated. Additionally, the segmental-nerve architecture (including interconnections) matches descriptions of other, adult nereidids, and the pharynx has developed longitudinal nerves, nerve rings, and ganglia. All central roots of the stomatogastric nervous system are distinguishable in 12-chaetiger juveniles. Evidence was also found for two previously undescribed peripheral nerve interconnections and aspects of parapodial muscle innervation.
Conclusions: N. arenaceodentata has apparently lost all essential trochophore characteristics typical of nereidids. Relative to the polychaete Capitella, brain separation from a distinct epidermis occurs later in N. arenaceodentata, indicating different mechanisms of prostomial development. Our observations of parapodial innervation and the absence of lateral nerves in N. arenaceodentata are similar to a 19th century study of Alitta virens (formerly Nereis/Neanthes virens) but contrast with a more recent study that describes a single parapodial nerve pattern and lateral nerve presence in A. virens and two other genera. The latter study apparently does not account for among-nereidid variation in these major neural features.