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Movie displaying the 3D rendering of the head and both the morphological features and spatial organization of the major brain subdivisions of the Rainbow Boa snake. The brain reconstruction was obtained from a microCT scan of a iodine-stained specimen through manual segmentation using the software Amira 5.5.0.
for more about brain evolution.
The brains of vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) look quite different despite being constituted by the same 5 subdivisions. This macroscopic divergence is due, not exclusively, but largely to the different volume each of these subdivisions occupies relative to the whole-brain, as a result of behavioral and ecological evolutionary drivers. Traditionally, studies assessing the impact of specific animal behaviors on brain organization have mainly focused on volumetric and linear measurements of brain regions. We hypothesized that a crucial trait, deeply influencing an organism life, like locomotion (fundamental for foraging, escaping predators, etc.) could potentially trigger variations at multiple and deeper levels of brain biological organization, ranging from morphology to cell distribution and gene activation patterns. We employed squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes) as models due to their extraordinary morphological features and the wide array of locomotor strategies they exhibit. Our results highlighted a strong locomotor signature in the cerebellum, a brain subdivision deeply involved in motor control, motor learning and online motor correction. The shape, cellular distribution of cortical neurons and gene activation profile of this brain subdivision all correlated with locomotor behavior independently of the evolutionary relationship occurring between the species analyzed. Our study demonstrates, for the first time, the existence of specific brain patterns, involving multiple neuroanatomical features, in vertebrates adopting similar lifestyles.
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