Evolution of Intercellular Signaling in Development: EvoInSiDe
Team leaders: Michael Schubert & Jenifer Croce
Evolution of Intercellular Signaling in Development: EvoInSiDe
Team leaders: Michael Schubert & Jenifer Croce


The main function of animal nervous systems is to collect, process, and appropriately respond to sensory inputs from the body and the external environment. The composition, structure, and thus overall architecture of nervous systems, however, vary greatly between animals, and despite enormous advances in our understanding of the physiology and the development of these organs, their evolutionary history remains highly contentious. The main unanswered questions are when and how often during evolution centralized (also called cephalized) nervous systems arose. Two opposing scenarios dominate the current scientific discourse. The first proposes that a centralized nervous system first appeared in a last common ancestor and that centralization was subsequently lost in different animal lineages. The second proposes that nervous system centralization took place independently in different animal lineages. The only consensus accepted by both schools of thought is that this issue can only be resolved by characterizing the nervous systems of a wide variety of different animals, especially from so-called “minor/non-classical” animal groups, which is the focus of the EvoInSiDe team.


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In extant chordates, all adult nervous systems are centralized and composed of an anterior brain (or cerebral vesicle), a single, longitudinal nerve cord located dorsally, and various peripheral nerves. In ecdysozoans and lophotrochozoans, nervous systems with an anterior condensation and one or more nerve cords have also been described in members of the arthropods, annelids, and mollusks. The problem with these results, however, is that they are heavily biased by the choice of animal systems. As a matter of fact, many animals lack condensations that qualify as brain or equivalent and are instead characterized by alternative nervous system organizations with basiepithelial nerve plexuses that are associated with subtle condensations and/or longitudinal nerve cords. These alternative nervous systems are found in ecdysozoans (like in priapulids, lociferans, and nematodes) and lophotrochozoans (like in mollusks and lophophorates), as well as, for example, in ambulacrarians (i.e., echinoderms and hemichordates).

Therefore, the question arises as to whether and how these alternative neural structures relate to centralized nervous systems. Are the morphogenetic processes underlying the development of alternative nervous systems comparable to those of centralized nervous systems? Are developing alternative nervous systems characterized by gene expression patterns and neuronal distributions resembling those found in centralized nervous system? Is the development (location, specification, patterning, and differentiation) of alternative and centralized nervous systems controlled by similar genetic processes?

To address these questions, the EvoInSiDe team is currently focusing on the three fundamental aspects of nervous system and neural development in different “minor/non-classical” animal systems:

  1. The morphogenetic processes of developing alternative nervous systems.
  2. The molecular subdivisions of alternative nervous systems during development.
  3. The roles of intercellular signaling pathways and gene regulatory networks during development of alternative nervous systems.


The underlying research hypothesis of this approach is that, if nervous system centralization occurred independently in several animal lineages, the morphogenetic, molecular, and genetic mechanisms underlying nervous system formation should be divergent. Yet, if centralization predated the evolutionary separation of the studied animal groups, conserved signatures of this single event should still be detectable at each level of our comparisons.


For the latest updates and information on our team, please contact us at: michael.schubert [at] imev-mer.fr / jenifer.croce [at] imev-mer.fr



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Carine Barreau
+33 (0) 4 93 76 39 73
Bâtiment Jean-Maetz

Master Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire

Parcours Biologie Cellulaire et du Développement & Cellules Souches


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