The Madagascan tenrecs (Afrotheria), an ancient mammalian clade, are characterized by unique brain anatomy. Striking features are an expanded paleocortex but a small and poorly differentiated neocortex devoid of a distinct granular layer IV. To investigate the organization of cortical areas we analyzed extracellular matrix components in perineuronal nets (PNs) using antibodies to aggrecan, lectin staining and hyaluronan-binding protein. Selected subcortical regions were studied to correlate the cortical patterns with features in evolutionary conserved systems. In the neocortex, paleocortex and hippocampus PNs were associated with nonpyramidal neurons. Quantitative analysis in the cerebral cortex revealed area-specific proportions and laminar distribution patterns of neurons ensheathed by PNs. Cortical PNs showed divergent structural phenotypes. Diffuse PNs forming a cotton wool-like perisomatic rim were characteristic of the paleocortex. These PNs were associated with a dense pericellular plexus of calretinin-immunoreactive fibres. Clearly contoured PNs were devoid of a calretinin-positive plexus and predominated in the neocortex and hippocampus. The organization of the extracellular matrix in subcortical nuclei followed the widely distributed mammalian type. We conclude that molecular properties of the aggrecan-based extracellular matrix are conserved during evolution of mammals; however, the matrix scaffold is adapted to specific wiring patterns of cortical and subcortical neuronal networks.
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