The development of the dorsal ganglion of the salp, Thalia democratica, is described from electron microscope reconstructions up to the stage of central neuropile formation. The central nervous system (CNS) rudiment is initially tubular with an open central canal. Early developmental events include: (i) the formation of a thick dorsal mantle of neuroblasts from which paired dorsal paraxial neuropiles arise; (ii) the differentiation of clusters of primary motor neurons along the ventral margin of the mantle; and (iii) the development from the latter of a series of peripheral nerves. The dorsal paraxial neuropiles ultimately connect to the large central neuropile, which develops later. Direct contact between neuroblasts and muscle appears to be involved in the development of some anterior nerves. The caudal nerves responsible for innervating more distant targets in the posterior part of the body develop without such contacts, which suggests that a different patterning mechanism may be employed in this part of the neuromuscular system.
The results are compared with patterns of brain organization in other chordates. Because the salp CNS is symmetrical and generally less reduced than that of ascidian larvae, it is more easily compared with the CNS of amphioxus and vertebrates. The dorsal paraxial centres in the salp resemble the dorsolateral tectal centres in amphioxus in both position and organization; the central neuropile in salps likewise resembles the translumenal system in amphioxus. The neurons themselves are similar in that many of their neurites appear to be derived from the apical surface instead of the basal surface of the cell. Such neurons, with extensively developed apical neurites, may represent a new cell type that evolved in the earliest chordates in conjunction with the formation of translumenal or intralumenal integrative centres. In comparing the salp ganglion with vertebrates, we suggest that the main core of the ganglion is most like the mes–etencephalic region of the vertebrate brain, i.e. the zone occupied by the midbrain, isthmus, and anterior hindbrain. Counterparts of more anterior regions (forebrain) and posterior ones (segmented hindbrain) appear to be absent in salps, but are found in other tunicates, suggesting that evolution has acted quite differently on the main subdivisions of the CNS in different types of tunicates.