The neurons in the mammalian and avian auditory hindbrain nuclei share a number of significant morphological and physiological properties for fast, secure and precise neurotransmission, such as giant synapses, voltage-gated K+ channels and fast AMPA receptors. Based on the independent evolution of the middle ear in these two vertebrate lineages, on different embryonic origins of the nuclei and on marked differences on the circuit level, these similarities are assumed to reflect convergent evolution. Independent acquisition of similar phenotypes can be produced by divergent evolution of genetic mechanisms or by similar molecular mechanisms. The distinction between these two possibilities requires knowledge of the gene regulatory networks (GRNs) that orchestrate the development of auditory hindbrain structures. We therefore compared the expression pattern of GRN components, both transcription factors (TFs) and noncoding RNA, during terminal differentiation of the auditory hindbrain structures in mouse and chicken when neurons acquire their final morphological and electrophysiological properties. In general, we observed broad expression of these genes in the mouse auditory cochlear nucleus complex and the superior olivary complex at both postnatal day 4 (P4) and at P25, and for the chicken at the equivalent developmental stages, i.e. embryonic day 13 (E13) and at P14-P17. Our data are in agreement with a model based on similar molecular mechanisms underlying terminal differentiation and maintenance of neuronal cell identity in the auditory hindbrain of different vertebrate lineages. This conservation might reflect developmental constraints arising from the tagmatic organization of rhombomeres and the evolutionarily highly conserved GRNs operating in these structures.
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