Genetic architecture of variation in the lateral line sensory system of threespine sticklebacks. Academic Article uri icon


  • Vertebrate sensory systems have evolved remarkable diversity, but little is known about the underlying genetic mechanisms. The lateral line sensory system of aquatic vertebrates is a promising model for genetic investigations of sensory evolution because there is extensive variation within and between species, and this variation is easily quantified. In the present study, we compare the lateral line sensory system of threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) from an ancestral marine and a derived benthic lake population. We show that lab-raised individuals from these populations display differences in sensory neuromast number, neuromast patterning, and groove morphology. Using genetic linkage mapping, we identify regions of the genome that influence different aspects of lateral line morphology. Distinct loci independently affect neuromast number on different body regions, suggesting that a modular genetic structure underlies the evolution of peripheral receptor number in this sensory system. Pleiotropy and/or tight linkage are also important, as we identify a region on linkage group 21 that affects multiple aspects of lateral line morphology. Finally, we detect epistasis between a locus on linkage group 4 and a locus on linkage group 21; interactions between these loci contribute to variation in neuromast pattern. Our results reveal a complex genetic architecture underlying the evolution of the stickleback lateral line sensory system. This study further uncovers a genetic relationship between sensory morphology and non-neural traits (bony lateral plates), creating an opportunity to investigate morphological constraints on sensory evolution in a vertebrate model system.

publication date

  • September 2012