Breaking the neural code of a cnidarian: Learning principles of neuroscience from the "vulgar" Hydra

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2024 Jun:86:102869. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2024.102869. Epub 2024 Mar 28.


The cnidarian Hydra vulgaris is a small polyp with a nervous system of few hundred neurons belonging to a dozen cell types, organized in two nerve nets without cephalization or ganglia. Using this simple neural "chassis", Hydra can maintain a stable repertoire of behaviors, even performing complex fixed-action patterns, such as somersaulting and feeding. The ability to image the activity of Hydra's entire neural and muscle tissue has revealed that Hydra's nerve nets are divided into coactive ensembles of neurons, associated with specific movements. These ensembles can be activated by neuropeptides and interact using cross-inhibition circuits and implement integrate-to-threshold algorithms. In addition, Hydra's nervous system can self-assemble from dissociated cells in a stepwise modular architecture. Studies of Hydra and other cnidarians could enable the systematic deciphering of the neural basis of its behavior and help provide perspective on basic principles of neuroscience.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hydra* / physiology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neurosciences*