Non-overlapping Neural Networks in Hydra vulgaris

Curr Biol. 2017 Apr 24;27(8):1085-1097. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.049. Epub 2017 Mar 30.


To understand the emergent properties of neural circuits, it would be ideal to record the activity of every neuron in a behaving animal and decode how it relates to behavior. We have achieved this with the cnidarian Hydra vulgaris, using calcium imaging of genetically engineered animals to measure the activity of essentially all of its neurons. Although the nervous system of Hydra is traditionally described as a simple nerve net, we surprisingly find instead a series of functional networks that are anatomically non-overlapping and are associated with specific behaviors. Three major functional networks extend through the entire animal and are activated selectively during longitudinal contractions, elongations in response to light, and radial contractions, whereas an additional network is located near the hypostome and is active during nodding. These results demonstrate the functional sophistication of apparently simple nerve nets, and the potential of Hydra and other basal metazoans as a model system for neural circuit studies.

Keywords: Hydra; calcium imaging; nerve net.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Hydra / physiology*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Calcium