Development of the dorsal and ventral thalamus in platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
The living monotremes (platypus and echidnas) are distinguished from therians as well as each other in part by the unusual structure of the thalamus in each. In particular, the platypus has an enlarged ventral posterior (VP) nucleus reflecting the great behavioural importance of trigeminosensation and electroreception. The embryological collections of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin were used to analyse the development of the dorsal thalamus and ventral thalamus (prethalamus) in both species. Prosomeric organization of the forebrain emerged at 6 mm crown-rump length (CRL), but thalamic neurogenesis did not commence until about 8–9 mm CRL. Distinctive features of the dorsal thalamus in the two species began to emerge after hatching (about 14–15 mm CRL). During the first post-hatching week, dense clusters of granular cells aggregated to form the VP of the platypus, whereas the VP complex of the echidna remained smaller and divided into distinct medial and lateral divisions. At the end of the first post-hatching week, the thalamocortical tract was much larger in the platypus than the echidna. The dorsal thalamus of the platypus is essentially adult-like by the sixth week of post-hatching life. The similar appearance of the dorsal thalamus in the two species until the time of hatching, followed by the rapid expansion of the VP in the platypus, is most consistent with ancestral platypuses having undergone changes in the genetic control of thalamic neurogenesis to produce a large VP for trigeminal electroreception after the divergence of the two lineages of monotreme.
KeywordsMonotremes Electroreception Somatosensory Prosomere 2 Prosomere 3 Ventral posterior thalamic nucleus
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation generously provided financial support for this project, making it possible to perform an extensive analysis of the Museum für Naturkunde (MfN) embryological collections. I am particularly in debt to Dr Peter Giere of the MfN, whose kind and considerate help in accessing the collection and using the museum equipment was invaluable. I am also very grateful to Professor Ulrich Zeller of the MfN for helpfully providing access to his collection of sectioned platypus and echidna heads.
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