Herein we take advantage of the evolutionary developmental biology approach in order to improve our understanding of both the functional organization and the evolution of the basal ganglia, with a particular focus on the globus pallidus. Therefore, we review data on the expression of developmental regulatory genes (that play key roles in patterning, regional specification and/or morphogenesis), gene function and fate mapping available in different vertebrate species, which are useful to (a) understand the embryonic origin and basic features of each neuron subtype of the basal ganglia (including neurotransmitter/neuropeptide expression and connectivity patterns); (b) identify the same (homologous) subpopulations in different species and the degree of variation or conservation throughout phylogeny, and (c) identify possible mechanisms that may explain the evolution of the basal ganglia. These data show that the globus pallidus of rodents contains two major subpopulations of GABAergic projection neurons: (1) neurons containing parvalbumin and neurotensin-related hexapetide (LANT6), with descending projections to the subthalamus and substantia nigra, which originate from progenitors expressing Nkx2.1, primarily located in the pallidal embryonic domain (medial ganglionic eminence), and (2) neurons containing preproenkephalin (and possibly calbindin), with ascending projections to the striatum, which appear to originate from progenitors expressing Islet1 in the striatal embryonic domain (lateral ganglionic eminence). Based on data on Nkx2.1, Islet1, LANT6 and proenkephalin, it appears that both cell types are also present in the globus pallidus/dorsal pallidum of chicken, frog and lungfish. In chicken, the globus pallidus also contains neurons expressing substance P (SP), perhaps originating in the striatal embryonic domain. In ray-finned and cartilaginous fishes, the pallidum contains at least the Nkx2.1 lineage cell population (likely representing the neurons containing LANT6). Based on the presence of neurons containing enkephalin or SP, it is possible that the pallidum of these animals also includes the Islet1 lineage cell subpopulation, and both neuron subtypes were likely present in the pallidum of the first jawed vertebrates. In contrast, lampreys (jawless fishes) appear to lack the pallidal embryonic domain and the Nkx2.1 lineage cell population that mainly characterize the pallidum in jawed vertebrates. In the absence of data in other jawless fishes, the ancestral condition in vertebrates remains to be elucidated. Perhaps, a major event in telencephalic evolution was the novel expression of Nkx2.1 in the subpallium, which has been related to Hedgehog expression and changes in the regulatory region of Nkx2.1.
© 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel.