• jaws;
  • gnathostome;
  • development;
  • evolution;
  • heterochrony;
  • heterotopy;
  • heterofacience;
  • prechordal plate;
  • mesendoderm;
  • branchial arch;
  • patterning;
  • cephalic ectoderm;
  • endoderm;
  • neontology


Classic neontology (comparative embryology and anatomy), through the application of the concept of homology, has demonstrated that the development of the gnathostome (jawed vertebrate) skull is characterized both by a fidelity to the gnathostome bauplan and the exquisite elaboration of final structural design. Just as homology is an old concept amended for modern purposes, so are many of the questions regarding the development of the skull. With due deference to Geoffroy-St. Hilaire, Cuvier, Owen, Lankester et al., we are still asking: How are bauplan fidelity and elaboration of design maintained, coordinated, and modified to generate the amazing diversity seen in cranial morphologies? What establishes and maintains pattern in the skull? Are there universal developmental mechanisms underlying gnathostome autapomorphic structural traits? Can we detect and identify the etiologies of heterotopic (change in the topology of a developmental event), heterochronic (change in the timing of a developmental event), and heterofacient (change in the active capacetence, or the elaboration of capacity, of a developmental event) changes in craniofacial development within and between taxa? To address whether jaws are all made in a like manner (and if not, then how not), one needs a starting point for the sake of comparison. To this end, we present here a “hinge and caps” model that places the articulation, and subsequently the polarity and modularity, of the upper and lower jaws in the context of cranial neural crest competence to respond to positionally located epithelial signals. This model expands on an evolving model of polarity within the mandibular arch and seeks to explain a developmental patterning system that apparently keeps gnathostome jaws in functional registration yet tractable to potential changes in functional demands over time. It relies upon a system for the establishment of positional information where pattern and placement of the “hinge” is driven by factors common to the junction of the maxillary and mandibular branches of the first arch and of the “caps” by the signals emanating from the distal-most first arch midline and the lamboidal junction (where the maxillary branch meets the frontonasal processes). In this particular model, the functional registration of jaws is achieved by the integration of “hinge” and “caps” signaling, with the “caps” sharing at some critical level a developmental history that potentiates their own coordination. We examine the evidential foundation for this model in mice, examine the robustness with which it can be applied to other taxa, and examine potential proximate sources of the signaling centers. Lastly, as developmental biologists have long held that the anterior-most mesendoderm (anterior archenteron roof or prechordal plate) is in some way integral to the normal formation of the head, including the cranial skeletal midlines, we review evidence that the seminal patterning influences on the early anterior ectoderm extend well beyond the neural plate and are just as important to establishing pattern within the cephalic ectoderm, in particular for the “caps” that will yield medial signaling centers known to coordinate jaw development. Developmental Dynamics 235:1256–1291, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.