Mammalian skin evolution: a reevaluation

Exp Dermatol. 2003 Jun;12(3):233-6. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0625.2003.00069.x.


A 1972 model for the evolutionary origin of hair suggested a primary mechanoreceptor role improving behavioral thermoregulation contributed to the success of late Paleozoic mammal-like reptiles. An insulatory role appeared secondarily subsequent to protohair multiplication. That model is updated in light of new data on (a) palaeoecology of mammalian ancestors; (b) involvement of HRPs in keratinization; (c) lipogenic lamellar bodies that form the barrier to cutaneous water loss; and (d) growth factors involved in hair follicle embryogenesis and turnover. It is now proposed that multiplication of sensory protohairs caused by mutations in patterning genes initially protected the delicate barrier tissues and eventually produced the minimal morphology necessary for an insulatory pelage. The latter permitted Mesozoic mammals to occupy the nocturnal niche 'in the shadow of dinosaurs'. When the giant reptiles became extinct, mammals underwent rapid radiation and reemerged as the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Hair*
  • Mammals
  • Reptiles
  • Skin*