The phylogenetic position of the phylum Ctenophora and the nature of ctenphore nervous systems are highly debated topics in modern evolutionary biology. However, very little is known about the organization of ctenophore neural and muscular systems, and virtually nothing has been reported about their embryogenesis. Here we have characterized the neural and muscular development of the sea gooseberry, Pleurobrachia bachei, starting from the cleavage stages to posthatching larvae. Scanning electron microscopy and immunochemistry were used to describe the formation of the embryonic mouth, tentacles, combs, aboral organ, and putative sensory cells. The muscles started their specification at the end of the first day of Pleurobrachia development. In contrast, neurons appeared 2 days after myogenesis, just before the hatching of fully formed cydippid larvae. The first tubulin-immunoreactive neurons, a small group of four to six cells with neuronal processes, was initially recognized at the aboral pole during the third day of development. Surprisingly, this observed neurogenesis occurred after the emergence of distinct behavioral patterns in the embryos. Thus, the embryonic behavior associated with comb cilia beatings and initial muscle organization does not require morphologically defined neurons and their elongated neurites. This study provides the first description of neuromuscular development in the enigmatic ctenophores and establishes the foundation for future research using emerging genomic tools and resources. J. Comp. Neurol. 524:136-151, 2016. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.