The Disappearing Lamellae: Implications of New Findings in the Family Equidae Suggest the Loss of Nuchal Ligament Lamellae on C6 and C7 Occurred After Domestication

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Conflicting data predominantly describes the equine nuchal ligament lamellae (NLL) attachments as C2–C6 or C2–C7; however, preliminary evidence suggests C2–C5. This study aimed to identify morphological variations in the attachments of the NLL in four species of the family equidae and determine if the variations were species or breed linked. Cadaveric examination evaluated 98 equids; Equusasinus (n = 2), Equus ferus caballus (n = 93), Equus przewalskii (n = 2), and Equus quagga boehmi (n = 1). Twenty breeds of E. f. caballus were included according to breed type—modern horse (n = 81), ancient type (n = 10), primitive (n = 4). Of the 98 equids, observations were divided into three categories according to the NLL attachments: C2–C5, C2–C6, and C2–C7; in category C2–C7, E. f. caballus (n = 3/93), modern horse 0 of 81, ancient 1 of 8, primitive 2 of 4; in category C2–C6, modern horse 2 of 81; in category C2–C5, modern horse 79 of 81, ancient type 7 of 8, primitive 2 of 4. Equus asinus, E. przewalskii, and E. q. boehmi all expressed category C2–C7. In total, 88 of 98 expressed category C2–C5; 2 of 98 category C2–C6; and 8 of 98 category C2–C7. These findings suggest that category C2–C5 provides sufficient evidence to suggest a normal occurrence. The high incidence of an absent NLL on C6 and C7 may be considered a contributing factor in caudal cervical osteoarthritis. Furthermore, category C2–C7 still exists in an ancient and primitive breed closely related to the tarpan, implying the NLL may have been attached from C2 to C7 in prehistoric horse before domestication. This hypothesis is supported by the findings of E. asinus, E. przewalskii, and E. q. boehmi, displaying attachments from C2 to C7.HighlightsAbsence of nuchal ligament lamellae (NLL) on C6 and C7 possibly connected to domestication.Donkey, zebra, and przewalski NLL attaches from C2 to C7.Nuchal ligament lamellae predominantly attaches from C2 to C5 in modern horse.Nuchal ligament lamellae attaches from C2 to C7 in primitive horse and one ancient type.Absence of NLL in the caudal vertebrae may be connected to osteoarthritis.

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