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Keywords:

  • development;
  • marsupials;
  • neocortex;
  • evolution;
  • comparative neuroanatomy;
  • isotropic fractionation

Abstract

Throughout development both the body and the brain change at remarkable rates. Specifically, the number of cells in the brain undergoes dramatic nonlinear changes, first exponentially increasing in cell number and then decreasing in cell number. Different cell types, such as neurons and glia, undergo these changes at different stages of development. The current investigation used the isotropic fractionator method to examine the changes in cellular composition at multiple developmental milestones in the short-tailed opossum, Monodelphis domestica. Here we report several novel findings concerning marsupial brain development and organization. First, during the later stages of neurogenesis (P18), neurons make up most of the cells in the neocortex, although the total number of neurons remains the same throughout the life span. In contrast, in the subcortical regions, the number of neurons decreases dramatically after P18, and a converse relationship is observed for nonneuronal cells. In the cerebellum, the total number of cells gradually increases until P180 and then remains constant, and then the number of neurons is consistent across the developmental ages examined. For the three major structures examined, neuronal density and the percentage of neurons within a structure are highest during neurogenesis and then decrease after this point. Finally, the total number of neurons in the opossum brain is relatively low compared with other small-brained mammals such as mice. The relatively low number of neurons and correspondingly high number of nonneurons suggests that in the marsupial brain nonneurons may play a significant role in signal processing. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:2602–2620, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.