Fossil evidence on evolution of inner ear cochlea in Jurassic mammals.
The coiled cochlea is a key evolutionary innovation of modern therian mammals. We report that the Late Jurassic mammal Dryolestes, a relative to modern therians, has derived bony characteristics of therian-like innervation, but its uncoiled cochlear canal is less derived than the coiled cochlea of modern therians. This suggests a therian-like innervation evolved before the fully coiled cochlea in phylogeny. The embryogenesis of the cochlear nerve and ganglion in the inner ear of mice is now known to be patterned by neurogenic genes, which we hypothesize to have influenced the formation of the auditory nerve and its ganglion in Jurassic therian evolution, as shown by their osteological correlates in Dryolestes, and by the similar base-to-apex progression in morphogenesis of the ganglion in mice, and in transformation of its canal in phylogeny. The cochlear innervation in Dryolestes is the precursory condition in the curve-to-coil transformation of the cochlea in mammalian phylogeny. This provides the timing of the evolution, and where along the phylogeny the morphogenetic genes were co-opted into patterning the cochlear innervation, and the full coiling of the cochlea in modern therians.