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date: 06 December 2021

Abstract and Keywords

During the evolution of synapses, existing molecules were exapted to serve in specific synaptic roles. Recent increased availability of assembled transcriptomes from organisms that evolved before and after the appearance of the earliest synapses provides the opportunity to trace molecular adaptations important for development of fast synaptic transmission. We discuss issues that affect transcriptome assembly and phylogenetic analysis, and which therefore impact this analysis. We use relatively recent transcriptomes of pre-bilaterians to examine the molecular evolution of three types of critical synapse-specific proteins: vesicular transporters, synaptotagmins and ionotropic glutamate receptors. The results emphasize the fundamental difficulties in defining the specific point at which a protein “assumes” a synaptic function. Nevertheless, the analysis informs our understanding of several major evolutionary topics, including the evolution of synaptic vesicles and the identity of the first neurotransmitter used for fast, synchronous transmission. This analysis is also relevant for the current discussion of whether neuronal and synaptic function evolved separately, once in ctenophores and once in cnidarians and the main bilaterian lineage.

Keywords: vesicular transporters, synapse, evolution, transcriptome, synaptotagmin, synaptic transmission, synaptic vesicles, ctenophores, cnidarians, glutamate receptors

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