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Evolving Specialization of the Arthropod Nervous System



The diverse array of body plans possessed by arthropods is created by generating variations upon a design of repeated segments formed during development, using a relatively small “toolbox” of conserved patterning genes. These attributes make the arthropod body plan a valuable model for elucidating how changes in development create diversity of form. As increasingly specialized segments and appendages evolved in arthropods, the nervous systems of these animals also evolved to control the function of these structures. Although there is a remarkable degree of conservation in neural development both between individual segments in any given species and between the nervous systems of different arthropod groups, the differences that do exist are informative for inferring general principles about the holistic evolution of body plans. This review describes developmental processes controlling neural segmentation and regionalization, highlighting segmentation mechanisms that create both ectodermal and neural segments, as well as recent studies of the role of Hox genes in generating regional specification within the central nervous system. We argue that this system generates a modular design that allows the nervous system to evolve in concert with the body segments and their associated appendages. This information will be useful in future studies of macroevolutionary changes in arthropod body plans, especially in


*Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3140; and Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Center for Integrative Genomics, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3200. To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:

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