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Neurocranial development of the coelacanth and the evolution of the sarcopterygian head

Dutel, Hugo; Galland, Manon; Tafforeau, Paul; Long, John A.; Fagan, Michael J.; Janvier, Philippe; Herrel, Anthony; Santin, Mathieu D.; Clément, Gaël; Herbin, Marc


Hugo Dutel

Manon Galland

Paul Tafforeau

John A. Long

Michael J. Fagan

Philippe Janvier

Anthony Herrel

Mathieu D. Santin

Gaël Clément

Marc Herbin


Michael Fagan
Project Member


The neurocranium of sarcopterygian fishes was originally divided into an anterior (ethmosphenoid) and posterior (otoccipital) portion by an intracranial joint, and underwent major changes in its overall geometry before fusing into a single unit in lungfishes and early tetrapods. Although the pattern of these changes is well-documented, the developmental mechanisms that underpin variation in the form of the neurocranium and its associated soft tissues during the evolution of sarcopterygian fishes remain poorly understood. The coelacanth Latimeria is the only known living vertebrate that retains an intracranial joint. Despite its importance for understanding neurocranial evolution, the development of the neurocranium of this ovoviviparous fish remains unknown. Here we investigate the ontogeny of the neurocranium and brain in Latimeria chalumnae using conventional and synchrotron X-ray microcomputed tomography as well as magnetic resonance imaging, performed on an extensive growth series for this species. We describe the neurocranium at the earliest developmental stage known for Latimeria, as well as the major changes that the neurocranium undergoes during ontogeny. Changes in the neurocranium are associated with an extreme reduction in the relative size of the brain along with an enlargement of the notochord. The development of the notochord appears to have a major effect on the surrounding cranial components, and might underpin the formation of the intracranial joint. Our results shed light on the interplay between the neurocranium and its adjacent soft tissues during development in Latimeria, and provide insights into the developmental mechanisms that are likely to have underpinned the evolution of neurocranial diversity in sarcopterygian fishes.


Dutel, H., Galland, M., Tafforeau, P., Long, J. A., Fagan, M. J., Janvier, P., …Herbin, M. (2019). Neurocranial development of the coelacanth and the evolution of the sarcopterygian head. Nature, 569, 556–559.

Journal Article Type Letter
Acceptance Date Mar 20, 2019
Online Publication Date Apr 17, 2019
Publication Date May 23, 2019
Deposit Date May 20, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal Nature
Print ISSN 0028-0836
Electronic ISSN 1476-4687
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 569
Pages 556–559
Keywords Multidisciplinary
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 15 October 2018; Accepted: 20 March 2019; First Online: 17 April 2019; : The authors declare no competing interests.


Article (887 Kb)

Copyright Statement
©2019 University of Hull<br /> <br /> “This is a pre-print of an article published in Nature. The final authenticated version is available online at:[insert DOI]”.

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