Cell fate and timing in the evolution of neural crest and mesoderm development in the head region of amphibians and lungfishes

Rolf Ericsson*, Janine M. Ziermann, Nadine Piekarski, Grit Schubert, Jean Joss, Lennart Olsson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Our research on the evolution of head development focuses on understanding the developmental origins of morphological innovations and involves asking questions like: How flexible (or conserved) are cell fates, patterns of cell migration or the timing of developmental events (heterochrony)? How do timing changes, or changes in life history affect head development and growth? Our 'model system' is a comparison between lungfishes and representatives from all three extant groups of amphibians. Within anuran amphibians, major changes in life history such as the repeated evolution of larval specializations (e.g. carnivory), or indeed the loss of a free-swimming larva, allows us to test for developmental constraints. Cell migration and cell fate are conserved in cranial neural crest cells in all vertebrates studied so far. Patterning and developmental anatomy of cranial neural crest and head mesoderm cells are conserved within amphibians and even between birds, mammals and amphibians. However, the specific formation of hypobranchial muscles from ventral somitic processes shows variation within tetrapods. The evolution of carnivorous larvae in terminal taxa is correlated with changes in both pattern and timing of head skeletal and muscle development. Sequence-heterochronic changes are correlated with feeding mode in terminal taxa and with phylogenetic relatedness in basal branches of the phylogeny. Eye muscles seem to form a developmental module that can evolve relatively independently from other head muscles, at least in terms of timing of muscle differentiation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)264-272
    Number of pages9
    JournalActa Zoologica
    Issue numberSUPPL. 1
    Publication statusPublished - May 2009


    • Cell migration
    • Fate mapping
    • Head development
    • Heterochrony
    • Morphogenesis


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