The urbilaterian brain revisited: novel insights into old questions from new flatworm clades

Dev Genes Evol. 2013 May;223(3):149-57. doi: 10.1007/s00427-012-0423-7. Epub 2012 Nov 10.


Flatworms are classically considered to represent the simplest organizational form of all living bilaterians with a true central nervous system. Based on their simple body plans, all flatworms have been traditionally grouped together in a single phylum at the base of the bilaterians. Current molecular phylogenomic studies now split the flatworms into two widely separated clades, the acoelomorph flatworms and the platyhelminth flatworms, such that the last common ancestor of both clades corresponds to the urbilaterian ancestor of all bilaterian animals. Remarkably, recent comparative neuroanatomical analyses of acoelomorphs and platyhelminths show that both of these flatworm groups have complex anterior brains with surprisingly similar basic neuroarchitectures. Taken together, these findings imply that fundamental neuroanatomical features of the brain in the two separate flatworm groups are likely to be primitive and derived from the urbilaterian brain.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Platyhelminths / classification*