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Brain Behav Evol. 1998;51(2):90-9.

Topographic position of forelimb motoneuron pools is conserved in vertebrate evolution.

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  • 1Biology Department, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, N.Y. 14456, USA. ryan@hws.edu


The neuromotor conservatism hypothesis predicts that neuromotor patterns in homologous tetrapod muscles are conserved evolutionarily despite the musculoskeletal modifications of vertebrate limbs. A complete description of the anatomical organization of the neurons innervating homologous limb muscles is a prerequisite to any test of the neuromotor conservatism hypothesis. This study uses the retrograde neuronal tracer WGA-HRP to selectively label the motor neuron pools of seven homologous forelimb muscles in mice (Mus musculus) and iguanas (Iguana iguana): Mm. pectoralis, spinodeltoideus, biceps brachii, lateral and long heads of triceps brachii, and the supraspinatus and infraspinatus (in mice) or their reptilian homolog, the supracoracoideus (in iguanas). In vertebrates, motoneurons are arranged in longitudinal columns of cells in the ventral horn of the spinal cord. Mouse motor pools average 1,952 microns in length, except the pectoralis pool which averaged 2,949 microns in length. Iguana pools average 3,196 microns in length. The number of neurons per pool ranged from 70-199 in mice and from 58-114 neurons in iguanas. In both iguanas and mice the motor pools for the spinodeltoids, biceps, and the supracoracoideus (or its mammalian homologs) lie anterior to the pectoralis and triceps motor pools. In the transverse plane, the pectoralis pool lies medial to those of the triceps. The pools of the biceps and spinodeltoids are located dorsal and lateral to those of the pectoralis and supracoracoideus (or its homologs in mammals). The resulting motor pool maps support the hypothesis that the anatomical organization of motoneurons in ancestral reptiles has been retained in these two tetrapod descendents.

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