Craniofacial development in marsupial mammals: Developmental origins of evolutionary change

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Abstract

Biologists have long studied the evolutionary consequences of the differences in reproductive and life history strategies of marsupial and eutherian mammals. Over the past few decades, the impact of these strategies on the development of the marsupial embryo and neonate has received attention. In this review, the differences in development in the craniofacial region in marsupial and eutherian mammals will be discussed. The review will highlight differences at the organogenic and cellular levels, and discuss hypotheses for shifts in the expression of important regulatory genes. The major difference in the organogenic period is a whole-scale shift in the relative timing of central nervous system structures, in particular those of the forebrain, which are delayed in marsupials, relative to the structures of the oral–facial apparatus. Correlated with the delay in development of nervous system structures, the ossification of the bones of the neurocranium are delayed, while those of the face are accelerated. This study will also review work showing that the neural crest, which provides much of the cellular material to the facial skeleton and may also carry important patterning information, is notably accelerated in its development in marsupials. Potential consequences of these observations for hypotheses on constraint, evolutionary integration, and the existence of developmental modules is discussed. Finally, the implications of these results for hypotheses on the genetic modulation of craniofacial patterning are presented. Developmental Dynamics 235:1181–1193, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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