Muscle system organization in the echinoderms: II. Microscopic anatomy and functional significance of the muscle-ligament-skeleton system in the arm of the comatulids (Antedon mediterranea)



Comatulids are able to perform quick and complex movements of the arms which are used to swim, creep, walk, and also form a rigid, feeding-filtration fan. To perform such versatile movements, the arms of these animals are equipped with a classical endoskeletal system, with joints, muscles, ligaments, and a hydroskeleton of three different coelomic channels. Light microscopic study of the detailed anatomical organization of the arm clarifies both the complex relations between the parts involved in the movements and their functional responsibilities. In particular, (1) the ventral muscle bundles show a heterogeneous structure that consists of different and variously arranged populations of fibers, which allows the different flexing movements of the arms (i.e., flexion and maintaining the flexed state); (2) the ligaments (both dorsal and interarticular) consist only of collagen fibrils and, therefore, have a passive function in binding the skeletal pieces together: their possible active engagement in the extending movements of the arms is thus excluded; (3) owing to the absence of other suitable antagonists to the flexor muscles, the only efficient antagonist system seems to be the coelomic cavities, which are well separated from each other and are also provided with muscular valves. They thus function as typical hydraulic systems, which allows the arm to perform both simple extensions and very complex combined movements and to maintain some rigid straight or twisted positions.