Morphology of the neurocentral synchondroses—thin cartilaginous layers between centra and neural arches—are documented in the extant crocodilian, Alligator mississippiensis (Archosauria, Crocodylia). Examination of dry skeletons demonstrates that neurocentral suture closure occurs in very late postnatal ontogeny (after reaching sexual maturity and/or body size ca. 40% from the upper range). Before sexual maturity (body length (BL) ≥ ca. 1.80 m), completely fused centra and neural arches are restricted to the caudal vertebral series. In contrast, the presacral vertebrae often remain unfused throughout postnatal ontogeny, retaining open sutures in very mature individuals (BL ≥ 2.80 m). These unfused centra and neural arches are structurally supported by the relatively large surface area of the neurocentral junctions, which results from primarily horizontal (mediolateral) increases with strong positive allometry. Cleared and stained specimens show that the cartilaginous neurocentral synchondrosis starts to form after approximately 40 embryonic days. Histological examination of the neurocentral junction in dorsal and anterior caudal vertebrae of six individuals (BL = 0.28–3.12 m) shows : (1) neurocentral fusion is the result of endochondral ossification of the neurocentral synchondrosis, (2) the neurocentral synchondrosis exhibits bipolar organization of three types of cartilaginous cells, and (3) complex neurocentral sutures (i.e., curved, zigzagged, and/or interdigitated boundaries) come from clumping of bone cells of the neural arches and centra into the neurocentral synchondrosis. The last two morphological features can be advantageous for delaying neurocentral fusion, which seems to be unique in crocodilians and possibly their close relatives, including nonavian dinosaurs and other Mesozoic archosaurs. Anat Rec, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc
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