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Sigwart, Julia D.; Sumner-Rooney, Lauren H.; Schwabe, Enrico; Heß, Martin; Brennan, Gerard P. and Schrödl, Michael (2014): A new sensory organ in "primitive" molluscs (Polyplacophora: Lepidopleurida), and its context in the nervous system of chitons. In: Frontiers in Zoology 11:7 [PDF, 2MB]

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Introduction: Chitons (Polyplacophora) are molluscs considered to have a simple nervous system without cephalisation. The position of the class within Mollusca is the topic of extensive debate and neuroanatomical characters can provide new sources of phylogenetic data as well as insights into the fundamental biology of the organisms. We report a new discrete anterior sensory structure in chitons, occurring throughout Lepidopleurida, the order of living chitons that retains plesiomorphic characteristics. Results: The novel "Schwabe organ" is clearly visible on living animals as a pair of streaks of brown or purplish pigment on the roof of the pallial cavity, lateral to or partly covered by the mouth lappets. We describe the histology and ultrastructure of the anterior nervous system, including the Schwabe organ, in two lepidopleuran chitons using light and electron microscopy. The oesophageal nerve ring is greatly enlarged and displays ganglionic structure, with the neuropil surrounded by neural somata. The Schwabe organ is innervated by the lateral nerve cord, and dense bundles of nerve fibres running through the Schwabe organ epithelium are frequently surrounded by the pigment granules which characterise the organ. Basal cells projecting to the epithelial surface and cells bearing a large number of ciliary structures may be indicative of sensory function. The Schwabe organ is present in all genera within Lepidopleurida (and absent throughout Chitonida) and represents a novel anatomical synapomorphy of the clade. Conclusions: The Schwabe organ is a pigmented sensory organ, found on the ventral surface of deep-sea and shallow water chitons; although its anatomy is well understood, its function remains unknown. The anterior commissure of the chiton oesophagial nerve ring can be considered a brain. Our thorough review of the chiton central nervous system, and particularly the sensory organs of the pallial cavity, provides a context to interpret neuroanatomical homology and assess this new sense organ.

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