Birds are exceptionally adept at controlling their body position. For example, they can coordinate rapid movements of their body while stabilizing their head. Intriguingly, this ability may rely in part on a mechanosensory organ in the avian lower spinal cord called the lumbosacral organ (LSO). However, molecular mechanotransduction mechanisms have not been identified in the avian spinal cord. Here, we report the presence of glycinergic neurons in the LSO that exhibit immunoreactivity for myosin7a and espin, molecules essential for function and maintenance of hair cells in the inner ear. Specifically, we find glycinergic cell bodies near the central canal and processes that extend laterally to the accessory lobes and spinal ligaments. These LSO neurons are reminiscent of glycinergic neurons in a recently-described lateral spinal proprioceptive organ in zebrafish that detects spinal bending. The avian LSO, however, is located inside a series of fused vertebrae called the synsacrum, which constrains spinal bending. We suggest the LSO may be a modification and elaboration of a preexisting mechanosensory spinal network in vertebrates. A mechanistic understanding of its function may be an important clue to understanding the evolution and development of avian locomotion.
Copyright © 2022 Stanchak et al.