Neuronal polarity: An evolutionary perspective

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Polarized distribution of signaling molecules to axons and dendrites facilitates directional information flow in complex vertebrate nervous systems. The topic we address here is when the key aspects of neuronal polarity evolved. All neurons have a central cell body with thin processes that extend from it to cover long distances, and they also all rely on voltage-gated ion channels to propagate signals along their length. The most familiar neurons, those in vertebrates, have additional cellular features that allow them to send directional signals efficiently. In these neurons, dendrites typically receive signals and axons send signals. It has been suggested that many of the distinct features of axons and dendrites, including the axon initial segment, are found only in vertebrates. However, it is now becoming clear that two key cytoskeletal features that underlie polarized sorting, a specialized region at the base of the axon and polarized microtubules, are found in invertebrate neurons as well. It thus seems likely that all bilaterians generate axons and dendrites in the same way. As a next step, it will be extremely interesting to determine whether the nerve nets of cnidarians and ctenophores also contain polarized neurons with true axons and dendrites, or whether polarity evolved in concert with the more centralized nervous systems found in bilaterians.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)572-580
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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