Flatworm nerve-muscle: structural and functional analysis

David Halton, Aaron Maule

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


Platyhelminthes occupy a unique position in nerve-muscle evolution, being the most primitive of metazoan phyla. Essentially, their nervous system consists of an archaic brain and associated pairs of longitudinal nerve cords cross-linked as an orthogon by transverse commissures. Confocal imaging reveals that these central nervous system elements are in continuity with an array of peripheral nerve plexuses which innervate a well-differentiated grid work of somatic muscle as well as a complexity of myofibres associated with organs of attachment, feeding, and reproduction. Electrophysiological studies of flatworm muscles have exposed a diversity of voltage-activated ion channels that influence muscle contractile events. Neuronal cell types are mainly multi- and bi-polar and highly secretory in nature, producing a heterogeneity of vesicular inclusions whose contents have been identified cytochemically to include all three major types of cholinergic, aminergic, and peptidergic messenger molecules. A landmark discovery in flatworm neurobiology was the biochemical isolation and amino acid sequencing of two groups of native neuropeptides: neuropeptide F and FMRFamide-related peptides (FaRPs). Both families of neuropeptide are abundant and broadly distributed in platyhelminths, occurring in neuronal vesicles in representatives of all major flatworm taxa. Dual localization studies have revealed that peptidergic and cholinergic substances occupy neuronal sets separate from those of serotoninergic components. The physiological actions of neuronal messengers in flatworms are beginning to be established, and where examined, FaRPs and 5-HT are myoexcitatory, while cholinomimetic substances are generally inhibitory. There is immunocytochemical evidence that FaRPs and 5-HT have a regulatory role in the mechanism of egg assembly. Use of muscle strips and (or) muscle fibres from free-living and parasitic flatworms has provided baseline information to indicate that muscle responses to FaRPs are mediated by a G-protein-coupled receptor, and that the signal transduction pathway for contraction involves the second messengers cAMP and protein kinase C.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)316-333
Number of pages18
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Flatworm nerve-muscle: structural and functional analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this