Coordinated modulation of cellular signaling through ligand-gated ion channels in Hydra vulgaris (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa)

Int J Dev Biol. 2012;56(6-8):551-65. doi: 10.1387/ijdb.113464pp.


Cnidarians lack well developed organs, but they have evolved the molecular and cellular components needed to assemble a nervous system. The apparent 'simplicity' of the cnidarian nervous net does not occur at the cellular level, but rather in the organisation of conducting systems. Cnidarian neurons are in fact electrically excitable, show the typical extended morphology and are connected by chemical synapses or gap junctions. They have been regarded as peptidergic, given the wealth of neuropeptides generally distributed along neurites and in cell bodies, supporting the hypothesis of a modulatory role in neurotransmission. However, the presence of clear-cored, as well as dense-cored synaptic vesicles in cnidarian neurons suggests both fast and slow synaptic transmission mechanisms. In fact, biochemical and functional evidence indicates that classical neurotransmitters and their metabolic partners are present in cnidarian tissues, where they are involved in coordinating motility and behavior. We have identified and characterized in Hydra tissues receptors to the inhibitory and excitatory amino acid neurotransmitters, GABA, glycine and NMDA, that are similar to mammalian ionotropic receptors in terms of their biochemical and pharmacological properties. These receptors appear to regulate pacemaker activities and their physiological correlates; in the live animal, they also affect feeding behavior, namely the duration and termination of the response elicited by reduced glutathione, with opposite actions of GABA and glycine or NMDA, respectively. These results suggest that modulation of cellular signaling through ligand-gated-ion channels is an ancient characteristic in the animal kingdom, and that the pharmacological properties of these receptors have been highly conserved during evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Gap Junctions / physiology
  • Hydra / cytology
  • Hydra / physiology*
  • Ligand-Gated Ion Channels / chemistry
  • Ligand-Gated Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neuropeptides / chemistry
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glycine / metabolism
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Ligand-Gated Ion Channels
  • Neuropeptides
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Receptors, Glycine
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate