Int. J. Dev. Biol. 47: 555 - 562 (2003)
© UBC Press

The origin and evolution of the nervous system.

Alain Ghysen

Laboratory of Neurogenetics, INSERM E343, Université Montpellier II, France. aghysen@univ-montp2.fr

ABSTRACT The nervous systems of animals as diverse as flies and mice share many conserved features, suggesting that such features were already present in their last common ancestor. As our knowledge of neural development increases, so does the list of conserved features, pointing to the existence of a highly sophisticated, single species as the origin of most extant nervous systems. Possible reasons for this unexpected monophyly are discussed, leading to the conclusion that the appearance of very different life forms, lifestyles and habitats requires the previous attainment of a neural circuitry that is sufficiently robust to cope with large changes without losing its overall coherence.