Reconstructing the eyes of Urbilateria

Detlev Arendt, Joachim Wittbrodt


The shared roles of Pax6 and Six homologues in the eye development of various bilaterians suggest that Urbilateria, the common ancestors of all Bilateria, already possessed some simple form of eyes. Here, we re–address the homology of bilaterian cerebral eyes at the level of eye anatomy, of eye–constituting cell types and of phototransductory molecules. The most widespread eye type found in Bilateria are the larval pigment–cup eyes located to the left and right of the apical organ in primary, ciliary larvae of Protostomia and Deuterostomia. They can be as simple as comprising a single pigment cell and a single photoreceptor cell in inverse orientation. Another more elaborate type of cerebral pigment–cup eyes with an everse arrangement of photoreceptor cells is found in adult Protostomia. Both inverse larval and everse adult eyes employ rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells and thus differ from the chordate cerebral eyes with ciliary photoreceptors. This is highly significant because on the molecular level we find that for phototransduction rhabdomeric versus ciliary photoreceptor cells employ divergent rhodopsins and non–orthologous G–proteins, rhodopsin kinases and arrestins. Our comparison supports homology of cerebral eyes in Protostomia; it challenges, however, homology of chordate and non–chordate cerebral eyes that employ photoreceptor cells with non–orthologous phototransductory cascades.

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