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Vol. 64, No. 3, 2004
Issue release date: September 2004

Lateral Line Receptors: Where Do They Come from Developmentally and Where Is Our Research Going?

Gibbs M.A.
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The lateral line system is composed of both mechanoreceptors, which exhibit little variation in structure between taxonomic groups, and electroreceptors, which exhibit considerably more variation. Cathodally sensitive ampullary electroreceptors are the primitive condition and are found in agnathans, chondrichthyans, and most osteichthyans. Aquatic amphibians also have ampullary electroreceptors for at least part of their life cycle. The more recently evolved anodally sensitive ampullary electroreceptors and tuberous electroreceptors are only found in four groups of teleost fishes. The basic ontogenetic unit of lateral line development is the dorsolateral placode. Primitively, there are six pairs of placodes, which pass through sequential stages of development into lateral line receptors. There is no question about the origin of primitive mechanoreceptors or electroreceptors, however, we do not have a good understanding of the origin of teleost mechanoreceptors and their ampullary or tuberous electroreceptors; do they come exclusively from dorsolateral placodes or from neural crest or even general ectoderm? A second intriguing lateral line question is how certain teleost fish groups evolved tuberous electroreceptors. Electroreception appears to have re-evolved at least twice in teleosts after being lost during the neopterygian radiation. It has been suggested that the development of tuberous electroreceptors might be due to changes in placodal patterning or a change in the general ectoderm that placodes arise from. Unfortunately, our understanding of lateral line origins in fishes is very sketchy, and, if we are to answer such an evolutionary question, we first need more complete information about lateral line development in a variety of fishes, which can then be combined with gene expression data to better interpret lateral line receptor development.

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