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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2002 Sep;39(2-3):141-53.

Evolutionary divergence of the reptilian and the mammalian brains: considerations on connectivity and development.

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  • 1Programa de MorfologĂ­a, Instituto de Ciencias BiomĂ©dicas, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


The isocortex is a distinctive feature of the mammalian brain, with no clear counterpart in other amniotes. There have been long controversies regarding possible homologues of this structure in reptiles and birds. The brains of the latter are characterized by the presence of a structure termed dorsal ventricular ridge (DVR), which receives ascending auditory and visual projections, and has been postulated to be homologous to parts of the mammalian isocortex (i.e., the auditory and the extrastriate visual cortices). Dissenting views, now supported by molecular evidence, claim that the DVR originates from a region termed ventral pallium, while the isocortex may arise mostly from the dorsal pallium (in mammals, the ventral pallium relates to the claustroamygdaloid complex). Although it is possible that in mammals the embryonic ventral pallium contributes cells to the developing isocortex, there is no evidence yet supporting this alternative. The possibility is raised that the expansion of the cerebral cortex in the origin of mammals was product of a generalized dorsalizing influence in pallial development, at the expense of growth in ventral pallial regions. Importantly, the evidence suggests that organization of sensory projections is significantly different between mammals and sauropsids. In reptiles and birds, some sensory pathways project to the ventral pallium and others project to the dorsal pallium, while in mammals sensory projections end mainly in the dorsal pallium. We suggest a scenario for the origin of the mammalian isocortex which relies on the development of associative circuits between the olfactory, the dorsal and the hippocampal cortices in the earliest mammals.

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