Trigeminal Nerve Morphology in Alligator mississippiensis and Its Significance for Crocodyliform Facial Sensation and Evolution

Authors


Correspondence to: Casey M. Holliday, Integrative Anatomy, Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65212. E-mail: hollidayca@missouri.edu

Abstract

Modern crocodylians possess a derived sense of face touch, in which numerous trigeminal nerve-innervated dome pressure receptors speckle the face and mandible and sense mechanical stimuli. However, the morphological features of this system are not well known, and it remains unclear how the trigeminal system changes during ontogeny and how it scales with other cranial structures. Finally, when this system evolved within crocodyliforms remains a mystery. Thus, new morphological insights into the trigeminal system of extant crocodylians may offer new paleontological tools to investigate this evolutionary transformation. A cross-sectional study integrating histological, morphometric, and 3D imaging analyses was conducted to identify patterns in cranial nervous and bony structures of Alligator mississippiensis. Nine individuals from a broad size range were CT-scanned followed by histomorphometric sampling of mandibular and maxillary nerve divisions of the trigeminal nerve. Endocast volume, trigeminal fossa volume, and maxillomandibular foramen size were compared with axon counts from proximal and distal regions of the trigeminal nerves to identify scaling properties of the structures. The trigeminal fossa has a significant positive correlation with skull length and endocast volume. We also found that axon density is greater in smaller alligators and total axon count has a significant negative correlation with skull size. Six additional extant and fossil crocodyliforms were included in a supplementary scaling analysis, which found that size was not an accurate predictor of trigeminal anatomy. This suggests that phylogeny or somatosensory adaptations may be responsible for the variation in trigeminal ganglion and nerve size in crocodyliforms. Anat Rec, 296:670–680, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Ancillary