A Connection to the Past: Monodelphis domestica Provides Insight Into the Organization and Connectivity of the Brains of Early Mammals


Correspondence to: Leah Krubitzer, Center for Neuroscience, 1544 Newton Ct., Davis, CA 95616. E-mail: lakrubitzer@ucdavis.edu


The current experiment is one of a series of comparative studies in our laboratory designed to determine the network of somatosensory areas that are present in the neocortex of the mammalian common ancestor. Such knowledge is critical for appreciating the basic functional circuitry that all mammals possess and how this circuitry was modified to generate species-specific, sensory-mediated behavior. Our animal model, the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica), is a marsupial that is proposed to represent this ancestral state more closely than most other marsupials and, to some extent, even monotremes. We injected neuroanatomical tracers into the primary somatosensory area (S1), rostral and caudal somatosensory fields (SR and SC, respectively), and multimodal cortex (MM) and determined their connections with other architectonically defined cortical fields. Our results show that S1 has dense intrinsic connections, dense projections from the frontal myelinated area (FM), and moderate projections from S2 and SC. SR has strong projections from several areas, including S1, SR, FM, and piriform cortex. SC has dense projections from S1, moderate to strong projections from other somatosensory areas, FM, along with connectivity from the primary (V1) and second visual areas. Finally, MM had dense intrinsic connections, dense projections from SC and V1, and moderate projections from S1. These data support the proposition that ancestral mammals likely had at least four specifically interconnected somatosensory areas, along with at least one multimodal area. We discuss the possibility that these additional somatosensory areas (SC and SR) are homologous to somatosensory areas in eutherian mammals. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:3877–3897, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.