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Cerebellar inputs in the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

Gutiérrez-Ibáñez, C;Kettler, L;Pilon, MC;Carr, CE;Wylie, DR;

Crocodilians (alligators, crocodiles and gharials) are the closet living relatives to birds, and as such, represent a key clade to understand the evolution of the avian brain. However, many aspects of crocodilians neurobiology remain unknown. In this paper we address an important knowledge gap as there are no published studies of cerebellar connections in any crocodilian species. We used injections of retrograde tracers into the cerebellum of the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) to describe for the first time the origin of climbing and mossy fiber inputs. We found that inputs to the cerebellum in the American alligator are similar to those of other non-avian reptiles and birds. Retrograde labeled cells were found in the spinal cord, inferior olive, reticular formation, vestibular and cerebellar nuclei, as well as in nucleus ruber and surrounding tegmentum. Additionally, we found no retrogradely labeled cells in the anterior rhombencephalon which suggest that, like other non-avian reptiles, crocodilians may lack pontine nuclei. Similar to birds and other non-avian reptiles, we found inputs to the cerebellum from the pretectal nucleus lentiformis mesencephali. Additionally, we found retrogradely labelled neurons in two nuclei in the pretectum: the nucleus circularis and the interstitial nucleus of the posterior commissure. These pretectal projections have not been described in any other non-avian reptile to date but they do resemble projections from the nucleus spiriformis medialis of birds. Our results show that many inputs to the cerebellum are highly conserved among sauropsids and that extensive pretectal inputs to the cerebellum are not exclusive to the avian brain. Finally, we suggest that the pontine nuclei of birds are an evolutionary novelty that may have evolved after the last common ancestor between birds and crocodilians, and may represent an intriguing case of convergent evolution with mammals.S. Karger AG, Basel.