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Keywords:

  • Cephalochordata;
  • Ciona intestinalis;
  • mechanoreceptor;
  • hair cell;
  • lateral line;
  • placodes

Abstract

A new mechanoreceptor organ, the coronal organ, in the oral siphon of some ascidians belonging to the order Pleurogona has recently been described. In contrast to the known mechanoreceptor organs of ascidian atrium that consist of sensory neurons sending their own axons to the cerebral ganglion, coronal sensory cells are secondary mechanoreceptors, i.e., axonless cells forming afferent and efferent synapses with neurites of neurons located in the ganglion. Moreover, coronal cells exhibit an apical apparatus composed of a cilium accompanied or flanked by rod-like microvilli (stereovilli). Because of the resemblance of these cells to vertebrate hair cells, their ectodermal origin and location in a linear array bordering the bases of the oral tentacles and velum, the coronal organ has been proposed as a homologue to the vertebrate acousticolateralis system. Here we describe the morphology of the coronal organs of six ascidians belonging to the suborders Phlebobranchia and Aplousobranchia (order Enterogona). The sensory cells are ciliated, lack typical stereovilli, and at their bases form synapses with neurites. In two species, the sensory cells are accompanied by large cells involved in synthesis and secretion of protein. We hypothesize that the coronal organ with its secondary sensory cells represents a plesiomorphic feature of ascidians. We compare the coronal organ with other chordate sensory organs formed of secondary sensory cells, i.e., the ventral lip receptors of appendicularians, the oral secondary sensory cells of cephalochordates, and the acousticolateralis system of vertebrates, and we discuss their homologies at different levels of organization. J. Comp. Neurol. 495:363–373, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.