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Development of the retinotectal system in the direct-developing frog Eleutherodactylus coqui in comparison with other anurans

Gerhard Schlosser

Author Affiliations

Brain Research Institute, University of Bremen, FB 2, P.O. Box 33 04 40, 28334 Bremen, Germany

Frontiers in Zoology 2008, 5:9  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-5-9

Published: 23 June 2008



Frogs primitively have a biphasic life history with an aquatic larva (tadpole) and a usually terrestrial adult. However, direct developing frogs of the genus Eleutherodactylus have lost a free living larval stage. Many larval structures never form during development of Eleutherodactylus, while limbs, spinal cord, and an adult-like cranial musculoskeletal system develop precociously.


Here, I compare growth and differentiation of the retina and tectum and development of early axon tracts in the brain between Eleutherodactylus coqui and the biphasically developing frogs Discoglossus pictus, Physalaemus pustulosus, and Xenopus laevis using morphometry, immunohistochemical detection of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) and acetylated tubulin, biocytin tracing, and in situ hybridization for NeuroD. Findings of the present study indicate that retinotectal development was greatly altered during evolution of Eleutherodactlyus mostly due to acceleration of cell proliferation and growth in retina and tectum. However, differentiation of retina, tectum, and fiber tracts in the embryonic brain proceed along a conserved slower schedule and remain temporally coordinated with each other in E. coqui.


These findings reveal a mosaic pattern of changes in the development of the central nervous system (CNS) during evolution of the direct developing genus Eleutherodactylus. Whereas differentiation events in directly interconnected parts of the CNS such as retina, tectum, and brain tracts remained coordinated presumably due to their interdependent development, they were dissociated from proliferation control and from differentiation events in other parts of the CNS such as the spinal cord. This suggests that mosaic evolutionary changes reflect the modular character of CNS development.