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Our cousins, the sea stars

Proteomics of echinoderm nervous tissue reveals similarities with mammals

Oeiras, 30.03.2011

Nervous transmission in sea stars may be similar to that of mammals after all. Researchers from the Lab of Mass Spectrometry at ITQB bring new arguments to this old debate by making a high throughput protein analysis of the radial nerve cord of the sea star, Marthasterias glacialis. After a prize for best oral communication at the 7th European Conference on Echinoderm last October, the research is now published making cover of the journal Proteomics.

Sea stars lack a centralized brain. Instead, five radial nerve cords derive from a circular nerve ring that surrounds the mouth. But despite the differences with more evolved nervous systems, researchers now find that the sea star nerve cord has many proteins similar to those of the rat spinal cord, suggesting a similar mode of action. In particular, the presence of a potassium channel, a sodium/potassium-transporting ATPase and several calcium-dependent proteins implies that neuronal synaptic transmission in echinoderms relies primarily on chemical synapses similar to the synaptic activity in the adult mammal’s spinal cord. Because the echinoderms, such as sea stars, and the vertebrates are actually more related than their appearance would tell (they all belong to a large animal group called Deuterostomia), the work now published is a significant contribution to understand how the central nervous system has evolved.

Moreover, the identification of several proteins involved in nervous cell formation may help to explain the striking regeneration ability of sea stars. These animals are able to regenerate a whole lost arm, and in some cases, even the entire body, after an injury. Given their simple morphology and easy manipulation, sea stars can be thought of as models of complex nervous systems, allowing the identification of regeneration targets worth studying in other organisms, namely mammals.

Original Article

Dataset Brief PROTEOMICS Volume 11, Issue 7, pages 1359–1364

Exploring the proteome of an echinoderm nervous system: 2-DE of the sea star radial nerve cord and the synaptosomal membranes subproteome

Catarina Ferraz Franco, Romana Santos, Ana Varela Coelho


Oral presentation

by Catarina Franco

Franco, Santos & Coelho - Exploring the proteome of an echinodermnervous system: 2-DE of the sea star radial nerve cord and the synaptosomal membranes subproteome

7th European Conference on Echinoderms: Echinoderm Research 2010
University of Göttingen, Germany, October 2-9, 2010



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