Profiling cellular diversity in sponges informs animal cell type and nervous system evolution

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Abstract

The evolutionary origin of metazoan cell types such as neurons and muscles is not known. Using whole-body single-cell RNA sequencing in a sponge, an animal without nervous system and musculature, we identified 18 distinct cell types. These include nitric oxide-sensitive contractile pinacocytes, amoeboid phagocytes, and secretory neuroid cells that reside in close contact with digestive choanocytes that express scaffolding and receptor proteins. Visualizing neuroid cells by correlative x-ray and electron microscopy revealed secretory vesicles and cellular projections enwrapping choanocyte microvilli and cilia. Our data show a communication system that is organized around sponge digestive chambers, using conserved modules that became incorporated into the pre- and postsynapse in the nervous systems of other animals.

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Musser, J. M., Schippers, K. J., Nickel, M., Mizzon, G., Kohn, A. B., Pape, C., … Arendt, D. (2021). Profiling cellular diversity in sponges informs animal cell type and nervous system evolution. Science, 374(6568), 717–723. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abj2949

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