The evolution of the pectoral girdle


Dr I. McGonnell, Molecular Neurobiology Group, MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King's College London, New Hunts House, London SE1 1UL, UK. Tel.: +44(0)20 7848 6809; e-mail:


The pectoral girdle articulates the forelimb with the axial skeleton in all vertebrates with paired anterior appendages. The structure of the pectoral girdle and its position along the axial skeleton has changed significantly during vertebrate evolution. These morphological changes have been well described, but there is little comparative embryology to indicate how these changes may have occurred. It is equally obscure how the muscles that connect the head with the pectoral girdle have maintained appropriate attachments even though these 2 structures have become separated. Here I review the changes in the pectoral girdle across different vertebrate taxa, indicating, where known, the developmental mechanisms underlying these changes. I also suggest how the muscular connections between the head and pectoral girdle have been maintained between these once adjacent bones, displaced during vertebrate evolution.