A reexamination of the epithelial sensory cells of amphioxus (Branchiostoma)



The rostral epithelium of a newly metamorphosed juvenile of Branchiostoma floridae was examined at the EM level to confirm previous reports on its sensory cells. The majority of the sensory cells are of three types: two type I variants, with simple collars of unbranched microvilli surrounding their cilia, and one kind of type II cell, with an extended collar of repeatedly branched microvilli. The two type I variants differ in the structure and arrangement of the microvilli, basal body and rootlet, and the length of the cilium. Both variants are probably primary sensory cells (i.e. each has its own axon), but the data supporting this conclusion are much better for one variant than for the other. Type II cells are secondary sensory cells, with synaptic terminals borne on short extensions of the cell body. The presence of degenerating type II cells suggests that they may be subject to a regular process of loss and renewal. The results do not resolve the evolutionary issue of how amphioxus sensory cells relate to the epithelial sensory and receptor cells of vertebrates. Being primary, the type I cells resemble the supposed ancestral type more closely than do type II cells. Type II cells may be chemosensory, however, and should not be ruled out a priori as possible homologues of either primary or secondary chemosensory cells in vertebrates.