Fossils and the Evolution of the Arthropod Brain

Nicholas J. Strausfeld, Xiaoya Ma, Gregory D. Edgecombe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The discovery of fossilized brains and ventral nerve cords in lower and mid-Cambrian arthropods has led to crucial insights about the evolution of their central nervous system, the segmental identity of head appendages and the early evolution of eyes and their underlying visual systems. Fundamental ground patterns of lower Cambrian arthropod brains and nervous systems correspond to the ground patterns of brains and nervous systems belonging to three of four major extant panarthropod lineages. These findings demonstrate the evolutionary stability of early neural arrangements over an immense time span. Here, we put these fossil discoveries in the context of evidence from cladistics, as well as developmental and comparative neuroanatomy, which together suggest that despite many evolved modifications of neuropil centers within arthropod brains and ganglia, highly conserved arrangements have been retained. Recent phylogenies of the arthropods, based on fossil and molecular evidence, and estimates of divergence dates, suggest that neural ground patterns characterizing onychophorans, chelicerates and mandibulates are likely to have diverged between the terminal Ediacaran and earliest Cambrian, heralding the exuberant diversification of body forms that account for the Cambrian Explosion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R989-R1000
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 24 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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