New perspectives on the origin of neurogenesis emerged with the identification of genes encoding post-synaptic proteins as well as many "neurogenic" regulators as the NK, Six, Pax, bHLH proteins in the Demosponge genome, a species that might differentiate sensory cells but no neurons. However, poriferans seem to miss some key regulators of the neurogenic circuitry as the Hox/paraHox and Otx-like gene families. Moreover as a general feature, many gene families encoding evolutionarily-conserved signaling proteins and transcription factors were submitted to a wave of gene duplication in the last common eumetazoan ancestor, after Porifera divergence. In contrast gene duplications in the last common bilaterian ancestor, Urbilateria, are limited, except for the bHLH Atonal-class. Hence Cnidaria share with Bilateria a large number of genetic tools. The expression and functional analyses currently available suggest a neurogenic function for numerous orthologs in developing or adult cnidarians where neurogenesis takes place continuously. As an example, in the Hydra polyp, the Clytia medusa and the Acropora coral, the Gsx/cnox2/Anthox-2 ParaHox gene likely supports neurogenesis. Also neurons and nematocytes (mechanosensory cells) share in hydrozoans a common stem cell and several regulatory genes indicating that they can be considered as sister cells. Performed in anthozoan and medusozoan species, these studies should tell us more about the way(s) evolution hazards achieved the transition from epithelial to neuronal cell fate, and about the robustness of the genetic circuitry that allowed neuromuscular transmission to arise and be maintained across evolution.
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