Decussation is used in biological contexts to describe a crossing (Latin: the roman numeral for ten, deca (Greek for ten), is an uppercase 'X'). (In Latin anatomical terms the form decussatio is used, e.g. decussatio pyramidum.) Similarly, the anatomical term chiasma is named after the Greek uppercase 'Χ', chi).

Section of the medulla oblongata at the level of the decussation of the pyramids.

Examples include:

  • In the brain, where nerve fibers obliquely cross from one lateral part to the other, that is to say they cross at a level other than their origin. See for examples Decussation of pyramids and sensory decussation. Decussation describes the point where the nerves cross from one side of the brain to the other, and typically the nerves from the left side of the body decussate to the right side of the brain and the nerves from the right side of the body decussate to the left brain, however depending on the function of the nerves the level of decussation is variable. In neuroanatomy the term chiasma is reserved for partial crossing of nerves such as in the optic chiasm.
  • In botanical leaf taxology, the word decussate describes an opposite pattern of leaves which has successive pairs at right angles to each other (i.e. rotated 90 degrees along the stem when viewed from above). In effect, successive pairs of leaves cross each other. Basil is a classic example of a decussate leaf pattern.
    Decussate phyllotaxis of Crassula rupestris
  • In tooth enamel, where bundles of rods cross each other as they travel from the enamel-dentine junction to the outer enamel surface, or near to it.
In this "true bug", Dysdercus decussatus, in the family Pyrrhocoridae, the specific epithet refers to the bandolier-like markings on the back.
  • In taxonomic description where decussate markings or structures occur, names such as decussatus or decussata or otherwise in part containing "decuss..." are common, especially in the specific epithet.[1]

Evolutionary significance

The origin of the contralateral organization, the optic chiasm and the major decussations on the nervous system of vertebrates has been a long standing puzzle to scientists.[2] For long the visual map theory of Ramón y Cajal has been the most popular theory[3] (see also [4] for an English summary). More recently, scientists have realized that this theory has some severe flaws. According to the current theory, the decussations are caused by an axial twist which makes it so that the anterior head, along with the forebrain, is turned by 180° with respect to the rest of the body.[5][6]

See also


  1. Jaeger, Edmund Carroll (1959). A source-book of biological names and terms. Springfield, Ill: Thomas. ISBN 0-398-06179-3.
  2. Vulliemoz, S.; Raineteau, O.; Jabaudon, D. (2005). "Reaching beyond the midline: why are human brains cross wired?". The Lancet Neurology. 4 (2): 87–99. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(05)00990-7. PMID 15664541.
  3. Ramón y Cajal, Santiago (1898). "Estructura del quiasma óptico y teoría general de los entrecruzamientos de las vías nerviosas. (Structure of the Chiasma opticum and general theory of the crossing of nerve tracks)" [Die Structur des Chiasma opticum nebst einer allgemeine Theorie der Kreuzung der Nervenbahnen (German, 1899, Verlag Joh. A. Barth)]. Rev. Trim. Micrográfica (in Spanish). 3: 15–65.
  4. Llinás, R.R. (2003). "The contribution of Santiago Ramón y Cajal to functional neuroscience". Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 4 (1): 77–80. doi:10.1038/nrn1011. PMID 12511864.
  5. de Lussanet, M.H.E.; Osse, J.W.M. (2012). "An ancestral axial twist explains the contralateral forebain and the optic chiasm in vertebrates" (PDF). Animal Biology. 62: 193–216. arXiv:1003.1872. doi:10.1163/157075611X617102.
  6. Kinsbourne, M (Sep 2013). "Somatic twist: a model for the evolution of decussation". Neuropsychology. 27 (5): 511–5. doi:10.1037/a0033662. PMID 24040928.

Further reading

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