FY2016 Annual Report

Evolutionary Neurobiology Unit
Assistant Professor Hiroshi WATANABE


While the origin of the nervous system is one of the most exciting questions in biology, the origin of neurons and the evolution of the central nervous system (CNS) are not well understood. In particular, the physiological nature of the first neurons has not been elucidated, and likewise it remains unsolved whether the CNSs of extant bilaterians began with an organized array of nerve net or by a primordial neuronal aggregation. Understanding molecular and cellular features of the nervous systems of the extant basal metazoans - early-branching animal lineages including poriferans, placozoans, ctenophores, and cnidarians - is pivotal to answering these questions. Recent genomic and cellular studies on model basal metazoans have provided new genetic insights into our understanding of the early evolutionary processes of the cellular “neuronalization” and the neural centralization.

Our research projects currently include (1) the anatomical and physiological dissections of the nervous systems of the basal metazoans, mainly on diffused and regionally condensed nervous systems of cnidarians, and (2) the analysis of genetic mechanism(s) underlying development of the regionalized (semi-centralized) nervous system of cnidarians. Our unit also carries out (3) a comprehensive analysis chemical neurotransmission among the basal metazoan lineages. We combine cutting-edge genetic, neuroscientific and neuroimaging techniques on cnidarians and other basal metazoans, and phylogenetic analysis to reconstruct the early evolutionary processes of the nervous system.

1. Staff

  • Dr. Hiroshi Watanabe, Assistant Professor
  • Dr. Eisuke Hayakawa, Group Leader
  • Dr. Shinya Komoto, Staff Scientisut
  • Amol Dahal, Research Unit Technician
  • Erina Kawai, Research Unit Technician
  • Ivan Mbogo, PhD Student
  • Larisa Scheloukhova, PhD Student
  • Chihiro Arasaki, Research Unit Administrator

2. Collaborations

Nothing to report.

3. Activities and Findings

Nothing to report.

4. Publications

4.1 Journals

Nothing to report

4.2 Books and other one-time publications

Nothing to report

4.3 Oral and Poster Presentations

1.    Hayakawa, E., Y. Fujimura, and D. Miura. Development of a versatile tool to visualize biological indices from mass spectrometry imaging data.  The 64th Annual Conference on Mass Spectrometry, Japan. Osaka, Japan. 2016

2.    Watanabe, H. Beta-Catenin and Bmp signalling induce the semi- centralized nervous system in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. JSDB Special Symposium: Frontier of Developmental Biology. University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan. 2016

3.    Watanabe, H., E. Hayakawa, and T. Holstein. Development of the semi-centralized nervous system of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. The Joint meeting of the 22nd International Congress of Zoology and the 87th Meeting of the Zoological Society of Japan. OIST, Okinawa, Japan. 2016

4.    Hayakawa, E. 2017: JST Tokyo Headquarters, Tokyo.

5. Intellectual Property Rights and Other Specific Achievements

External Fundings

  • Grant-in-Aid for Challenging Exploratory Research, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, "Visualization of the dynamics of the metabolism in plants by spatially resolved metabolomics. (空間分解メタボロミクスによる植物代謝動態可視化)", Lead PI: D. Miura (Kyushu University), Co-PIs: Y. Fujimura (Kyushu University), E. Hayakawa (OIST), Amount: 3.9M Yen, Period: Apr. 2015 – Mar. 2018.
  • Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B), Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, "Creation of Innovative Methodology for Analyzing in vivo Ambiguous Bioactivity of Anti-oxidative Substance to Support the Development of Health and Longevity-promoting Foods (健康長寿食を支える抗酸化物質の根拠不在な生体内活性の革新的解析法の創出)", Lead PI: Y. Fujimura (Kyushu University), Co-PIs: F. Hyodo (Gifu University), E. Hayakawa (OIST), D. Setoyama (Kyushu University), D. Miura (Kyushu University), Amount: 16.64M Yen, Period: Apr. 2014 – Mar. 2017)

​6. Meetings and Events

Nothing to report.

7. Other

Nothing to report.