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Evolution of the vertebrate neurocranium: problems of the premandibular domain and the origin of the trabecula

Shigeru Kuratani, Per E Ahlberg
Zoological Letters 2018, 4: 1
29340168
The subdivision of the gnathostome neurocranium into an anterior neural crest-derived moiety and a posterior mesodermal moiety has attracted the interest of researchers for nearly two centuries. We present a synthetic scenario for the evolution of this structure, uniting developmental data from living cyclostomes and gnathostomes with morphological data from fossil stem gnathostomes in a common phylogenetic framework. Ancestrally, vertebrates had an anteroposteriorly short forebrain, and the neurocranium was essentially mesodermal; skeletal structures derived from premandibular ectomesenchyme were mostly anterior to the brain and formed part of the visceral arch skeleton. The evolution of a one-piece neurocranial 'head shield' in jawless stem gnathostomes, such as galeaspids and osteostracans, caused this mesenchyme to become incorporated into the neurocranium, but its position relative to the brain and nasohypophyseal duct remained unchanged. Basically similar distribution of the premandibular ectomesenchyme is inferred, even in placoderms, the earliest jawed vertebrates, in which the separation of hypophyseal and nasal placodes obliterated the nasohypophyseal duct, leading to redeployment of this ectomesenchyme between the separate placodes andĀ permitting differentiation of the crown gnathostome trabecula that floored the forebrain. Initially this region was very short, and the bulk of the premandibular cranial part projected anteroventral to the nasal capsule, as in jawless stem gnathostomes. Due to the lengthening of the forebrain, the anteriorly projecting 'upper lip' was lost, resulting in the modern gnathostome neurocranium with a long forebrain cavity floored by the trabeculae.

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