The vertebrate brain is highly conserved topologically, but less is known about neuroanatomical variation between individual brain regions. Neuroanatomical variation at the regional level is hypothesized to provide functional expansion, building upon ancestral anatomy needed for basic functions. Classically, animal models used to study evolution have lacked tools for detailed anatomical analysis that are widely used in zebrafish and mice, presenting a barrier to studying brain evolution at fine scales. In this study, we sought to investigate the evolution of brain anatomy using a single species of fish consisting of divergent surface and cave morphs, that permits functional genetic testing of regional volume and shape across the entire brain. We generated a high-resolution brain atlas for the blind Mexican cavefish Astyanax mexicanus and coupled the atlas with automated computational tools to directly assess variability in brain region shape and volume across all populations. We measured the volume and shape of every grossly defined neuroanatomical region of the brain and assessed correlations between anatomical regions in surface fish, cavefish, and surface × cave F2 hybrids, whose phenotypes span the range of surface to cave. We find that dorsal regions of the brain are contracted, while ventral regions have expanded, with F2 hybrid data providing support for developmental constraint along the dorsal-ventral axis. Furthermore, these dorsal-ventral relationships in anatomical variation show similar patterns for both volume and shape, suggesting that the anatomical evolution captured by these two parameters could be driven by similar developmental mechanisms. Together, these data demonstrate that A. mexicanus is a powerful system for functionally determining basic principles of brain evolution and will permit testing how genes influence early patterning events to drive brain-wide anatomical evolution.
Keywords: Astyanax; brain atlas; cavefish; evo/devo; evolutionary biology; neuroanatomy; neurodevelopment; neuroscience.
© 2023, Kozol et al.