Research Seminar: Dr Detlev Arendt - European Molecular Biology Laboratory

29 October 2018, 1.00 PM - 29 October 2018, 2.00 PM

Professor Dr Detlev Arendt hosted by Dr Roberto Feuda

Life Sciences Seminar Room G13/G14


The evolutionary origin of neurons and neural circuits


The first animals comprised simple epithelia, composed of cells that resembled their unicellular ancestors, the choanoflagellates. Early cell types performed many functions, such as sensing the environment, capturing and digesting small food, contraction, and locomotion via beating flagella. To coordinate these functions towards whole-body activities such as feeding and locomotion, diversifying cell types started to exploit and elaborate on existing intercellular communication signals, receptors, and pathways.

The current revolution in whole-body single-RNA sequencing allows us for the first time to trace the evolution of cell types from the beginnings of the Metazoa to today’s living animals. I will present new insight into the evolution of neurons and neural circuits from sequencing single cells of the demosponge Spongilla lacustris. Intriguingly, we find several cell types with striking resemblances to neuronal cell type families in bilaterians, such as Six+ and Pax+ epithelialcells, amoeboid-neuroid cells with a unique assembly of presynaptic matrix genes, and choanocytes with postsynaptic proteins. Our findings suggest that distinct neuronal characteristics evolved separately in distinct cells, and that first synaptic circuits formed in the absence of proper neurons in the earliest Metazoans.

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Detlev Arendt

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