Linear enamel hypoplasia as an indicator of physiological stress in great apes: reviewing the evidence in light of enamel growth variation

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2012 Jun;148(2):191-204. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21619.


Physiological stress, such as malnutrition or illness, can disrupt normal enamel growth, resulting in linear enamel hypoplasias (LEHs). Although ecological factors may contribute to LEH expression, other factors, such as surface abrasion and enamel growth variables, are also likely to be involved. Attention to these other factors is necessary before we can begin to understand what LEH might signify in terms of ecological sources of physiological stress in non-human primates. This study focuses on assessing the contribution of these other factors to variation in LEH expression within and across great ape taxa. Here, we present LEH data from unabraded crown regions in samples of seven great ape species. We analyze these data with respect to lateral enamel formation time and the angles that striae of Retzius make with the enamel surface, as these variables are expected to affect variation in LEH expression. We find that although the duration of enamel formation is associated with sex differences in LEH expression, it is not clearly related to taxonomic variation in LEH expression, and does not explain the low frequency of LEH in mountain gorillas found in this and a previous study. Our data on striae of Retzius angles suggest that these influence LEH expression along the tooth crown and may contribute to the consistently high frequencies of LEH seen in Pongo in this and previous studies. We suggest that future work aimed at understanding species variation in these angles is crucial to evaluating taxonomic patterns of LEH expression in great apes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Dental Enamel / growth & development*
  • Dental Enamel / pathology*
  • Dental Enamel Hypoplasia / pathology*
  • Female
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Hominidae / physiology
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Species Specificity
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Tooth Crown