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J Morphol. 2012 Apr;273(4):441-52. doi: 10.1002/jmor.11034. Epub 2011 Nov 23.

Regional variation in morphology of vertebral centra and intervertebral joints in striped bass, Morone saxatilis.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA.


The vertebral column of fishes has traditionally been divided into just two distinct regions, abdominal and caudal. Recently, however, developmental, morphological, and mechanical investigations have brought this traditional regionalization scheme into question. Alternative regionalization schema advocate the division of the abdominal vertebrae into cervical, abdominal, and in some cases, transitional regions. Here, we investigate regional variation at the level of the vertebrae and intervertebral joint (IVJ) tissues in the striped bass, Morone saxatilis. We use gross dissection, histology, and polarized light imaging to quantify vertebral height, width, length, IVJ length, IVJ tissue volume and cross-sectional area, and vertical septum fiber populations, and angles of insertion. Our results reveal regional differences between the first four (most rostral) abdominal vertebrae and IVJs and the next six abdominal vertebrae and IVJs, supporting the recognition of a distinct cervical region. We found significant variation in vertebral length, width, and height from cranial to caudal. In addition, we see a significant decline in the volume of notochordal cells and the cross-sectional area of the fibrous sheath from cranial to caudal. Further, polarized light imaging revealed four distinct fiber populations within the vertical septum in the cervical and abdominal regions in contrast with just one fiber population found in the caudal region. Measurement of the insertion angles of these fiber populations revealed significant differences between the cervical and abdominal regions. Differences in vertebral, IVJ, and vertical septum morphology all predict greater range of motion and decreased stiffness in the caudal region of the fish compared with the cervical and abdominal regions.

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