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Keywords:

  • facial motor nucleus;
  • comparative neuroanatomy;
  • facial expression;
  • mammals;
  • primates;
  • stereology;
  • motoneuron

Abstract

The facial motor nucleus (VII) contains motoneurons that innervate the facial muscles of expression. In this review, the comparative anatomy of this brainstem nucleus is examined. Several aspects of the anatomical organization of the VII appear to be common across mammals, such as the distribution of neuron types, general topography of muscle representation, and afferent connections from the midbrain and brainstem. Phylogenetic specializations are apparent in the proportion of neurons allocated to the representation of subsets of muscles and the degree of differentiation among subnuclei. These interspecific differences may be related to the elaboration of certain facial muscles in the context of socioecological adaptations such as whisking behavior, sound localization, vocalization, and facial expression. Furthermore, current evidence indicates that direct descending corticomotoneuron projections in the VII are present only in catarrhine primates, suggesting that this connectivity is an important substrate for the evolution of enhanced mobility and flexibility in facial expression. Data are also presented from a stereologic analysis of VII neuron numbers in 18 primate species and a scandentian. Using phylogenetic comparative statistics, it is shown that there is not a correlation between group size and VII neuron number (adjusted for medulla volume) among primates. Great apes and humans, however, display moderately more VII neurons that expected for their medulla size. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.