The presence of accessory cusps in chimpanzee lower molars is consistent with a patterning cascade model of development

J Anat. 2010 Sep;217(3):245-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2010.01265.x. Epub 2010 Jul 12.


Tooth crown morphology is of primary importance in fossil primate systematics and understanding the developmental basis of its variation facilitates phenotypic analyses of fossil teeth. Lower molars of species in the chimp/human clade (including fossil hominins) possess between four and seven cusps and this variability has been implicated in alpha taxonomy and phylogenetic systematics. What is known about the developmental basis of variation in cusp number - based primarily on experimental studies of rodent molars - suggests that cusps form under a morphodynamic, patterning cascade model involving the iterative formation of enamel knots. In this study we test whether variation in cusp 6 (C6) presence in common chimpanzee and bonobo lower molars (n = 55) is consistent with predictions derived from the patterning cascade model. Using microcomputed tomography we imaged the enamel-dentine junction of lower molars and used geometric morphometrics to examine shape variation in the molar crown correlated with variation in C6 presence (in particular the size and spacing of the dentine horns). Results indicate that C6 presence is consistent with predictions of a patterning cascade model, with larger molars exhibiting a higher frequency of C6 and with the location and size of later-forming cusps correlated with C6 variation. These results demonstrate that a patterning cascade model is appropriate for interpreting cusp variation in Pan and have implications for cusp nomenclature and the use of accessory cusp morphology in primate systematics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Molar / anatomy & histology
  • Molar / growth & development*
  • Odontogenesis / physiology
  • Odontometry / methods
  • Pan paniscus / anatomy & histology
  • Pan paniscus / growth & development*
  • Pan troglodytes / anatomy & histology
  • Pan troglodytes / growth & development*
  • Tooth Crown / anatomy & histology
  • Tooth Crown / growth & development*
  • X-Ray Microtomography / methods