Anatomy of the pectoral and forelimb muscles of wildtype and green fluorescent protein-transgenic axolotls and comparison with other tetrapods including humans: a basis for regenerative, evolutionary and developmental studies



Rui Diogo, Department of Anatomy, Howard University College of Medicine, 520 W St. NW, Washington, DC 20059, USA. T: + 1 202 6510439; F: + 1 202 5367839; E:


The axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum is one of the most used model organisms in evolutionary, developmental and regenerative studies, particularly because it can reconstitute a fully functional and complete forelimb/hindlimb. Surprisingly, there is no publication that describes all the pectoral and forelimb muscles of this species or provides a comparative framework between these muscles and those of other model organisms and of modern humans. In the present paper we describe and illustrate all these muscles in A. mexicanum and provide the first report about the myology of adults of a model organism that is based on analyses and dissections of both wildtype animals and transgenic animals that express green fluorescent protein (GFP) in muscle fibers. On the one hand, the inclusion of GFP-transgenic animals allows us to show the muscles as more commonly seen, and thus easier to understand, by current developmental and regenerative biologists. On the other hand, by including wildtype and GFP-transgenic animals and by visualizing these latter animals with and without a simultaneous transmission laser light, we were able to obtain a more complete and clearer understanding of the exact limit of the fleshy and tendinous parts of the muscles and their specific connections with the skeletal elements. This in turn allowed us to settle some controversies in previous anatomical and comparative studies. As most developmental, regenerative and evolutionary biologists are interested in comparing their observations of A. mexicanum with observations in other model organisms, and ultimately in using this information to increase the understanding of human evolution and medicine, we also provide tables showing the homologies between the pectoral and forelimb muscles of axolotls, of model organisms such as mice, frogs and chicken, and of Homo sapiens. An example illustrating the outcomes of using our methodology and of our observations is that they revealed that, contrary to what is often stated in the literature, A. mexicanum has a muscle coracoradialis that has both a well developed proximal fleshy belly and a distal long and thin tendon, supporting the idea that this muscle very likely corresponds to at least part of the amniote biceps brachii. Our observations also: (i) confirmed that the flexores digitorum minimi, interphalangeus digiti 3, pronator quadratus and palmaris profundus 1 are present as distinct muscles in A. mexicanum, supporting the idea that the latter muscle does not correspond to the pronator accessorius of reptiles; (ii) confirmed that the so-called extensor antebrachii radialis is present as a distinct muscle in this species and, importantly, indicated that this muscle corresponds to the supinator of other tetrapods; (iii) showed that, contrary to some other urodeles, including some other Ambystoma species, there is no distinct muscle epitrochleoanconeus in A. mexicanum and; (iv) showed that the ulnar and radial bundles of the abductor et extensor digiti 1 correspond to the abductor pollicis longus and extensor pollicis longus of other tetrapods, respectively.