The complex ontogenetic trajectory of mandibular shape in a laboratory mouse



The mouse mandible is a popular model system that continues to be the focus of studies in evo-devo and other fields. Yet, little attention has been given to the role of postnatal growth in producing the adult form. Using cleared and stained specimens, we describe the timing of tooth and jaw development and changes in jaw size and shape from postnatal day 1 (p1) through weaning to adulthood. We found that tooth development is relatively advanced at birth, and that the functional adult dentition is in place by p15 (just before the start of weaning). Shape analysis showed that the trajectory of mandible shape changes direction at least twice between birth and adulthood, at p7 and p15. At each stage there are changes in shape to all tooth- and muscle-bearing regions and, at each change of direction, all of these regions change their pattern of growth. The timing of the changes in direction in Mus suggests there are signals that redirect growth patterns independently of changes in function and loading associated with weaning and jaw muscle growth. A better understanding of these signals and how they produce a functionally integrated mandible may help explain the mechanisms guiding evolutionary trends and patterns of plasticity and may also provide valuable clues to therapeutic manipulation of growth to alleviate the consequences of trauma or disease.