In various ciliated epithelia one can distinguish either symplectic, antiplectic, dexioplectic, or laeoplectic metachronal waves, according to whether the effective beat of their cilia is with, against, to the right of, or to the left of, the direction of movement of the waves. In a given epithelium the relation between the direction of the waves and the direction of beat is constant.

Symplectic waves are probably associated with the transport of large particles, or viscous masses of mucus; antiplectic and diaplectic waves are better suited for creating water currents. It is unusual to find both dexioplectic and laeoplectic waves in the same animal; indeed, it is the rule for only one of these two types of metachronism to occur throughout a given systematic group. Dexioplectic waves are found in Protochordata, primitive Spiralia, the velum of Eulamellibranchiata, Phoronidea, Brachiopoda, Bdelloidea, and Melicertida; laeoplectic waves are found in Chaetopterus, Mollusca generally, Bryozoa, and Ploima. The incidence of dexioplectic and laeoplectic metachronism is not influenced by morphological reversals of symmetry such as the situs inversus. The relation between the direction of beat and the direction of the waves is therefore probably determined by cytological or stereochemical factors, rather than by gross morphology.

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