Profiling cellular diversity in sponges informs animal cell type and nervous system evolution


The evolutionary origin of metazoan cell types such as neurons and muscles is not known. Using whole-body single-cell RNA sequencing in a sponge, an animal without nervous system and musculature, we identified 18 distinct cell types. These include nitric oxide–sensitive contractile pinacocytes, amoeboid phagocytes, and secretory neuroid cells that reside in close contact with digestive choanocytes that express scaffolding and receptor proteins. Visualizing neuroid cells by correlative x-ray and electron microscopy revealed secretory vesicles and cellular projections enwrapping choanocyte microvilli and cilia. Our data show a communication system that is organized around sponge digestive chambers, using conserved modules that became incorporated into the pre- and postsynapse in the nervous systems of other animals.
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