Cnidarians represent the first animal phylum with an organized nervous system and a complex active behavior. The hydra nervous system is formed of sensory-motoneurons, ganglia neurons and mechanoreceptor cells named nematocytes, which all differentiate from a common stem cell. The neurons are organized as a nerve net and a subset of neurons participate in a more complex structure, the nerve ring that was identified in most cnidarian species at the base of the tentacles. In order to better understand the genetic control of this neuronal network, we analysed the expression of evolutionarily conserved regulatory genes in the hydra nervous system. The Prd-class homeogene prdl-b and the nuclear orphan receptor hyCOUP-TF are expressed at strong levels in proliferating nematoblasts, a lineage where they were found repressed during patterning and morphogenesis, and at low levels in distinct subsets of neurons. Interestingly, Prd-class homeobox and COUP-TF genes are also expressed during neurogenesis in bilaterians, suggesting that mechanoreceptor and neuronal cells derive from a common ancestral cell. Moreover, the Prd-class homeobox gene prdl-a, the Antp-class homeobox gene msh, and the thrombospondin-related gene TSP1, which are expressed in distinct subset of neurons in the adult polyp, are also expressed during early budding and/or head regeneration. These data strengthen the fact that two distinct regulations, one for neurogenesis and another for patterning, already apply to these regulatory genes, a feature also identified in bilaterian related genes.
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