The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 58: 469 - 483 (2014)

Vol 58, Issue 6-7-8

Special Issue: Spiralian Model Systems

Segment formation in Annelids: patterns, processes and evolution

Published: 21 January 2015

Guillaume Balavoine*

Institut Jacques Monod, CNRS / Université Paris Diderot, Paris, France


The debate on the origin of segmentation is a central question in the study of body plan evolution in metazoans. Annelids are the most conspicuously metameric animals as most of the trunk is formed of identical anatomical units. In this paper, I summarize the various patterns of evolution of the metameric body plan in annelids, showing the remarkable evolvability of this trait, similar to what is also found in arthropods. I then review the different modes of segment formation in the annelid tree, taking into account the various processes taking place in the life histories of these animals, including embryogenesis, post-embryonic development, regeneration and asexual reproduction. As an example of the variations that occur at the cellular and genetic level in annelid segment formation, I discuss the processes of teloblastic growth or posterior addition in key groups in the annelid tree. I propose a comprehensive definition for the teloblasts, stem cells that are responsible for sequential segment addition. There are a diversity of different mechanisms used in annelids to produce segments depending on the species, the developmental time and also the life history processes of the worm. A major goal for the future will be to reconstitute an ancestral process (or several ancestral processes) in the ancestor of the whole clade. This in turn will provide key insights in the current debate on ancestral bilaterian segmentation.


segmentation, metamerism, annelid, evolution, teloblasts

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