A Hypothesis for the Composition of the Tardigrade Brain and its Implications for Panarthropod Brain Evolution

Integr Comp Biol. 2017 Sep 1;57(3):546-559. doi: 10.1093/icb/icx081.


Incredibly disparate brain types are found in Metazoa, which raises the question of how this disparity evolved. Ecdysozoa includes representatives that exhibit ring-like brains-the Cycloneuralia-and representatives that exhibit ganglionic brains-the Panarthropoda (Euarthropoda, Onychophora, and Tardigrada). The evolutionary steps leading to these distinct brain types are unclear. Phylogenomic analyses suggest that the enigmatic Tardigrada is a closely related outgroup of a Euarthropoda + Onychophora clade; as such, the brains of tardigrades may provide insight into the evolution of ecdysozoan brains. Recently, evolutionarily salient questions have arisen regarding the composition of the tardigrade brain. To address these questions, we investigated brain anatomy in four tardigrade species-Hypsibius dujardini, Milnesium n. sp., Echiniscus n. sp., and Batillipes n. sp.-that together span Tardigrada. Our results suggest that general brain morphology is conserved across Tardigrada. Based on our results we present a hypothesis that proposes direct parallels between the tardigrade brain and the segmental trunk ganglia of the tardigrade ventral nervous system. In this hypothesis, brain neuropil nearly circumscribes the tardigrade foregut. We suggest that the tardigrade brain retains aspects of an ancestral cycloneuralian brain, while exhibiting ganglionic structure characteristic of euarthropods and onychophorans.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Phylogeny
  • Tardigrada / anatomy & histology*
  • Tardigrada / classification*
  • Tardigrada / embryology