The expression of neural-specific genes reveals the structural and molecular complexity of the planarian central nervous system.
Planarians are attractive animals in which various questions related to the central nervous system (CNS) can be addressed, such as its origin and evolution, its degree of functional conservation among different organisms, and the plasticity and regenerative capabilities of neural cells and networks. However, it is first necessary to characterize at the gene expression level how this CNS is organized in intact animals. Previous studies have shown that the planarian brain can be divided into at least three distinct domains based on the expression of otd/Otx-related genes. In order to further characterize the planarian brain, we have recently isolated a large number of planarian neural-specific genes through DNA microarrays and ESTs projects. Here, we describe new molecular domains within the brain of intact planarians by the expression of 16 planarian neural-specific genes, including the putative homologues of protein tyrosine phosphatase receptor, synaptotagmin VII, slit, G protein and glutamate and acetylcholine receptors, by in situ hybridization in both whole-mount and transverse sections. Our results indicate that planarian otd/Otx-positive domains can be further subdivided into distinct molecular regions according to the expression of different neural genes. We found differences at the gene expression level between the dorsal and ventral sides of the brain, along its antero-posterior axis and also between the proximal and distal parts of the brain lateral branches. This high level of regionalization in the planarian brain contrasts with its apparent simplicity at the morphological level.