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Keywords:

  • horizontal ducts;
  • jawless vertebrates;
  • lamprey;
  • parallel evolution

Abstract

In jawed (gnathostome) vertebrates, the inner ears have three semicircular canals arranged orthogonally in the three Cartesian planes: one horizontal (lateral) and two vertical canals. They function as detectors for angular acceleration in their respective planes. Living jawless craniates, cyclostomes (hagfish and lamprey) and their fossil records seemingly lack a lateral horizontal canal. The jawless vertebrate hagfish inner ear is described as a torus or doughnut, having one vertical canal, and the jawless vertebrate lamprey having two. These observations on the anatomy of the cyclostome (jawless vertebrate) inner ear have been unchallenged for over a century, and the question of how these jawless vertebrates perceive angular acceleration in the yaw (horizontal) planes has remained open. To provide an answer to this open question we reevaluated the anatomy of the inner ear in the lamprey, using stereoscopic dissection and scanning electron microscopy. The present study reveals a novel observation: the lamprey has two horizontal semicircular ducts in each labyrinth. Furthermore, the horizontal ducts in the lamprey, in contrast to those of jawed vertebrates, are located on the medial surface in the labyrinth rather than on the lateral surface. Our data on the lamprey horizontal duct suggest that the appearance of the horizontal canal characteristic of gnathostomes (lateral) and lampreys (medial) are mutually exclusive and indicate a parallel evolution of both systems, one in cyclostomes and one in gnathostome ancestors.