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First use of anatomical networks to study modularity and integration of heads, forelimbs and hindlimbs in abnormal anencephalic and cyclopic vs normal human development

May 1, 2019

The ill-named “logic of monsters” hypothesis of Pere Alberch - one of the founders of modern evo-devo - emphasized the importance of “internal rules” due to strong developmental constraints, linked teratologies to developmental processes and patterns, and contradicted hypotheses arguing that birth defects are related to a chaotic and random disarray of developmental mechanisms. We test these hypotheses using, for the first time, anatomical network analysis (AnNA) to study and compare the musculoskeletal modularity and integration of both the heads and the fore- and hindlimbs of abnormal cyclopic trisomy 18 and anencephalic human fetuses, and of normal fetal, newborn, and adult humans. Our previous works have shown that superficial gross anatomical analyses of these specimens strongly support the “logic of monsters” hypothesis, in the sense that there is an ‘order’ or ‘logic’ within the gross anatomical patterns observed in both the normal and abnormal individuals. Interestingly, the results of the AnNA done in the present work reveal a somewhat different pattern: at least concerning the musculoskeletal modules obtained in our AnNA, we observe a hybrid between the “logic of monsters” and the “lack of homeostasis” hypotheses. For instance, as predicted by the latter hypothesis, we found a high level of left-right asymmetry in the forelimbs and/or hindlimbs of the abnormal cyclopic trisomy 18 and anencephalic human fetuses. That is, a network analysis of the organization of/connection between the musculoskeletal structures of these fetuses reveals a more “chaotic” pattern than that detected by superficial gross anatomical comparisons. We discuss the broader developmental, evolutionary, and medical implications of these results.

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