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Signals from the brain induce variation in avian facial shape



How developmental mechanisms generate the phenotypic variation that is the raw material for evolution is largely unknown. Here, we explore whether variation in a conserved signaling axis between the brain and face contributes to differences in morphogenesis of the avian upper jaw. In amniotes, including both mice and avians, signals from the brain establish a signaling center in the ectoderm (the Frontonasal ectodermal zone or "FEZ") that directs outgrowth of the facial primordia.


Here we show that the spatial organization of this signaling center differs among avians, and these correspond to Sonic hedgehog (Shh) expression in the basal forebrain and embryonic facial shape. In ducks this basal forebrain domain is present almost the entire width, while in chickens it is restricted to the midline. When the duck forebrain is unilaterally transplanted into stage matched chicken embryos the face on the treated side resembles that of the donor.


Combined with previous findings, these results demonstrate that variation in a highly conserved developmental pathway has the potential to contribute to evolutionary differences in avian upper jaw morphology. Developmental Dynamics 244:1133-1143, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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