Leanchoiliidae reveals the ancestral organization of the stem euarthropod brain

Tian Lan, Yuanlong Zhao, Fangchen Zhao, You He, Pedro Martinez, Nicholas J. Strausfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Fossils provide insights into how organs may have diversified over geological time.1 However, diversification already accomplished early in evolution can obscure ancestral events leading to it. For example, already by the mid-Cambrian period, euarthropods had condensed brains typifying modern mandibulate lineages.2 However, the demonstration that extant euarthropods and chordates share orthologous developmental control genes defining the segmental fore-, mid-, and hindbrain suggests that those character states were present even before the onset of the Cambrian.3 Fossilized nervous systems of stem Euarthropoda might, therefore, be expected to reveal ancestral segmental organization, from which divergent arrangements emerged. Here, we demonstrate unsurpassed preservation of cerebral tissue in Kaili leanchoiliids revealing near-identical arrangements of bilaterally symmetric ganglia identified as the proto-, deuto-, and tritocerebra disposed behind an asegmental frontal domain, the prosocerebrum, from which paired nerves extend to labral ganglia flanking the stomodeum. This organization corresponds to labral connections hallmarking extant euarthropod clades4 and to predicted transformations of presegmental ganglia serving raptorial preocular appendages of Radiodonta.5 Trace nervous system in the gilled lobopodian Kerygmachela kierkegaardi6 suggests an even deeper prosocerebral ancestry. An asegmental prosocerebrum resolves its location relative to the midline asegmental sclerite of the radiodontan head, which persists in stem Euarthropoda.7 Here, data from two Kaili Leanchoilia, with additional reference to Alalcomenaeus,8,9 demonstrate that Cambrian stem Euarthropoda confirm genomic and developmental studies10–15 claiming that the most frontal domain of the euarthropod brain is a unique evolutionary module distinct from, and ancestral to, the fore-, mid-, and hindbrain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4397-4404.e2
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 11 2021


  • Cambrian
  • Euarthropoda
  • Kaili biota
  • ancestral cerebrum
  • brain
  • fossil
  • ganglia
  • prosocerebrum
  • soft tissue preservation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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