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Multiple developmental mechanisms regulate species-specific jaw size

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Variation in jaw size during evolution has been crucial for the adaptive radiation of vertebrates, yet variation in jaw size during development is often associated with disease. To test the hypothesis that early developmental events regulating neural crest (NC) progenitors contribute to species-specific differences in size, we investigated mechanisms through which two avian species, duck and quail, achieve their remarkably different jaw size. At early stages, duck exhibit an anterior shift in brain regionalization yielding a shorter, broader, midbrain. We find no significant difference in the total number of pre-migratory NC; however, duck concentrate their pre-migratory NC in the midbrain, which contributes to an increase in size of the post-migratory NC population allocated to the mandibular arch. Subsequent differences in proliferation lead to a progressive increase in size of the duck mandibular arch relative to that of quail. To test the role of pre-migratory NC progenitor number in regulating jaw size, we reduced and augmented NC progenitors. In contrast to previous reports of regeneration by NC precursors, we find that neural fold extirpation results in a loss of NC precursors. Despite this reduction in their numbers, post-migratory NC progenitors compensate, producing a symmetric and normal-sized jaw. Our results suggest that evolutionary modification of multiple aspects of NC cell biology, including NC allocation within the jaw primordia and NC-mediated proliferation, have been important to the evolution of jaw size. Furthermore, our finding of NC post-migratory compensatory mechanisms potentially extends the developmental time frame for treatments of disease or injury associated with NC progenitor loss.

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