Novel bridge of axon-like processes of epithelial cells in the aboral sense organ of ctenophores. Academic Article uri icon


  • We describe by light and electron microscopy a novel structure in the aboral sense organ (apical organ) of cydippid (Pleurobrachia) and lobate (Mnemiopsis) ctenophores. An elevated bundle of long, thin, microtubule-filled processes arises from the apical ends of two groups of epithelial cells located on opposite sides of the apical organ along the tentacular plane of the body. This bundle of axon-like processes arches over the epithelial floor like a bridge, with branches at both ends running toward opposing pairs of ciliary balancers that are motile pacemakers for the rows of locomotory ciliary comb plates. The bridge in Pleurobrachia is approximately 40 microm long and 3-4 microm wide and consists of approximately 60 closely packed processes, 0.2-0.8 microm thick, containing vesicles and numerous microtubules running parallel to their long axes. There are approximately 30 epithelial cells in each of the two groups giving rise to the bridge and each cell forms a single process, so roughly half of the processes in the bridge must originate from cells on one side and diverge into branches to a pair of balancers on the opposite side of the apical organ. The 150-200 cilia in each balancer arise from morphologically complex cellular projections with asymmetric lateral extensions directed towards a fork of the bridge. Presynaptic triad structures and vesicles are found in this region but clear examples of synaptic contacts between bridge processes and balancer cells have not yet been traced. Cydippid larvae of Mnemiopsis have a conspicuous bridge along the tentacular plane of the apical organ. Beroid ctenophores that lack tentacles at all stages do not have a bridge. We discuss the possibility that the bridge is an electrical conduction pathway to balancers that coordinates tentacle-evoked swimming responses of ctenophores, such as global ciliary excitation.

publication date

  • November 2002