Neuropharmacology and behavior in planarians: Translations to mammals

Francesca R. Buttarelli, Clelia Pellicano, Francesco E. Pontieri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Planarians are the simplest animals to exhibit a body plan common to all vertebrates and many invertebrates, characterized by bilateral rather than radial symmetry, dorsal and ventral surfaces, and a rostrocaudal axis with a head and a tail, including specialized sense organs and an aggregate of nerve cells in the head. Neurons in planarian more closely resemble those of vertebrates than those of advanced invertebrates, exhibiting typical vertebrate features of multipolar shape, dendritic spines with synaptic boutons, a single axon, expression of vertebrate-like neural proteins, and relatively low spontaneously generated electrical activity. Here we report the most relevant contribution to the knowledge of the neuropharmacology of planarians, with particular reference to the behavioral consequences of the exposure to drugs acting on neural transmission. Neurochemical and histochemical data indicate the presence of several neurotransmitter-receptor systems in planarians. Moreover, a variety of experimental studies characterized specific behavioral patterns of these animals following the exposure to drugs acting on neural transmission. There is also evidence of the interactions between discrete neurotransmitter-receptor systems in modulating behavior in planarians. Finally, the model has proved efficacy for investigating the neurotoxicology of the dopamine neurons, and for the initial screening of the neuroprotective potential of drugs. In conclusion, these findings indicate that interactions between discrete neurotransmitter-receptor systems occur very early along phylogeny, although they may have evolved from very fundamental behaviors, such as motor activity in planarian, to more complex and integrated functions in vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-408
Number of pages10
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology - C Toxicology and Pharmacology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2008


  • Behavior
  • Evolution
  • Neural transmission
  • Planarian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Pharmacology


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