Journal of Comparative Neurology (1988)

DOI: 10.1002/cne.902770108


Morphogenesis of the brain in a cetacean species has been investigated by means of reconstructions from serial sections of successive prenatal stages of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Four specimens ranging from 10 to 46 mm crown-rump length (CRL) were selected and three-dimensional reconstructions of the developing brains were obtained with the plate model method. External and internal characteristics, established as criteria for staging embryonic development of primates and rodents, revealed that a common ontogenetic plan regarding the chronological sequence of morphogenetic events exists in mammalian orders as different as primates and odontocetes. Comparison of the 10-mm and 11.5-mm CRL harbour porpoise brains with those in other mammalian embryos of a similar ontogenetic stage (stages 16 and 17) showed a high degree of correspondence in morphological features. This ontogenetic age group therefore might still be considered as a generalized mammalian one. However, during succeeding morphogenesis of the Phocoena brain, qualititative and quantitative divergences from other mammalian groups became manifest, such as those found in the 24-mm CRL specimen (corresponding to mammalian stages 20, 21). Early foetuses of the harbour porpoise (46 and 65 mm CRL) already exhibited a variety of typical odontocete brain features, such as absence of olfactory bulb, thick cochlear nerve, and strong progression of brainstem structures. Morphogenesis of the harbour porpoise brain is discussed from a comparative perspective, incorporating the literature on the development of mammalian brains.