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Anat Rec. 2000 Jun 15;261(3):111-25.

Chordate evolution and the origin of craniates: an old brain in a new head.

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Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA.


The earliest craniates achieved a unique condition among bilaterally symmetrical animals: they possessed enlarged, elaborated brains with paired sense organs and unique derivatives of neural crest and placodal tissues, including peripheral sensory ganglia, visceral arches, and head skeleton. The craniate sister taxon, cephalochordates, has rostral portions of the neuraxis that are homologous to some of the major divisions of craniate brains. Moreover, recent data indicate that many genes involved in patterning the nervous system are common to all bilaterally symmetrical animals and have been inherited from a common ancestor. Craniates, thus, have an "old" brain in a new head, due to re-expression of these anciently acquired genes. The transition to the craniate brain from a cephalochordate-like ancestral form may have involved a mediolateral shift in expression of the genes that specify nervous system development from various parts of the ectoderm. It is suggested here that the transition was sequential. The first step involved the presence of paired, lateral eyes, elaboration of the alar plate, and enhancement of the descending visual pathway to brainstem motor centers. Subsequently, this central visual pathway served as a template for the additional sensory systems that were elaborated and/or augmented with the "bloom" of migratory neural crest and placodes. This model accounts for the marked uniformity of pattern across central sensory pathways and for the lack of any neural crest-placode cranial nerve for either the diencephalon or mesencephalon. Anat Rec (New Anat) 261:111-125, 2000.

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