Nerve cells and spontaneous coordinated behavior first appeared near the base of animal evolution in the common ancestor of cnidarians and bilaterians. Experiments on the cnidarian Hydra have demonstrated that nerve cells are essential for this behavior, although nerve cells in Hydra are organized in a diffuse network and do not form ganglia. Here we show that the gap junction protein innexin-2 is expressed in a small group of nerve cells in the lower body column of Hydra and that an anti-innexin-2 antibody binds to gap junctions in the same region. Treatment of live animals with innexin-2 antibody eliminates gap junction staining and reduces spontaneous body column contractions. We conclude that a small subset of nerve cells, connected by gap junctions and capable of synchronous firing, act as a pacemaker to coordinate the contraction of the body column in the absence of ganglia.
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