Differentiation of the axial skeleton into distinct regions, once thought to be characteristic of the Tetrapoda, also occurs in the actinopterygian Danio rerio. In these taxa, the boundary between the cervical-thoracic regions correlates with Hoxc6 expression and morphological features such as position of the pectoral fin and associated nerves, and the absence of ribs. In the lungfish Neoceratodus, a member of the extant sister taxon to the Tetrapoda, the first vertebral element to chondrify is situated well posterior to the skull, developing from somites 6 and 7 (6/7) and associated with an enlarged cranial rib and nerves innervating the pectoral fin. Two vertebral elements develop later and more anteriorly, associated with somites 4/5 and 5/6. These three elements become incorporated into the occipital region of the skull during Neoceratodus ontogeny, until the cranial rib itself articulates to the rear of the skull. These features of early development indicate a regionalization of the Neoceratodus vertebral column: the cranial rib marks the boundary between the cervical and thoracic regions, the two more anterior vertebrae lacking ribs represent the cervical region, while somites 1-4 (cranial half), lacking any vertebral development, represent the occipital region. However, the cervical region of the vertebral column is effectively lost during ontogeny of Neoceratodus. A recognizable cervical region in the tetrapod vertebral column, as in zebrafish, suggests that cervical vertebrae are not incorporated into the skull but maintained as distinct elements of the column, representing an important shift in relative developmental timing and the influence of heterochrony in this region during the fish-tetrapod transition.
|Number of pages||9|
|Journal||Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution|
|Publication status||Published - 15 May 2005|