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Keywords:

  • gecko;
  • notochord;
  • skeletogenesis;
  • cartilage

Abstract

The persistence of the notochord into the skeletally mature life stage is characteristic of gekkotans, but is otherwise of rare occurrence among amniotes. The taxonomic diversity of Gekkota affords the opportunity to investigate the structure and development of this phylogenetically ancestral component of the skeleton, and to determine its basic characteristics. The gekkotan notochord spans almost the entire postcranial long axis and is characterized by a moniliform morphology with regularly alternating zones of chordoid and chondroid tissue. Chordoid tissue persists in the region of intervertebral articulations and occupies the cavitations that lie between the centra of the amphicoelous vertebrae. Chondroid tissue is restricted to zones in which the diameter of the notochord is reduced, corresponding to mid-vertebral locations. In the tail, these zones of chondroid tissue are associated with the autotomic fracture planes. Chondroid tissue first manifests during late embryogenesis, appears to differentiate from pre-existing chordoid tissue, and has the histological and histochemical characteristics of cartilage. Our observations lend support to the hypothesis that cartilage can be derived directly from notochordal tissue, and suggest that the latter may be an evolutionary and developmental precursor to chordate cartilage. The persistence of chordoid tissue in the intervertebral regions of amphicoelous vertebrae is consistent with a suite of paedomorphic traits exhibited by gekkotans and suggests that the typical hydrostatic nature of notochordal tissue may play a role in mechanically governing patterns of displacement between adjacent amphicoelous vertebrae that lack extensive centrum-to-centrum contact. Morphol., 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.