Carabelli's trait revisited: an examination of mesiolingual features at the enamel-dentine junction and enamel surface of Pan and Homo sapiens upper molars

J Hum Evol. 2012 Oct;63(4):586-96. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.06.003. Epub 2012 Aug 11.


Carabelli's trait is a morphological feature that frequently occurs on the mesiolingual aspect of Homo sapiens upper molars. Similar structures also referred to as Carabelli's trait have been reported in apes and fossil hominins. However, the morphological development and homology of these mesiolingual structures among hominoids are poorly understood. In this study, we employ micro-computed tomography to image the enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) and outer enamel surface (OES) of Pan (n = 48) and H. sapiens (n = 52) upper molars. We investigate the developmental origin of mesiolingual features in these taxa and establish the relative contribution of the EDJ and enamel cap to feature expression. Results demonstrate that mesiolingual features of H. sapiens molars develop at the EDJ and are similarly expressed at the OES. Morphological variation at both surfaces in this taxon can satisfactorily be assessed using standards for Carabelli's trait developed by the Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System (ASUDAS). Relative to H. sapiens, Pan has an even greater degree of correspondence in feature expression between the EDJ and OES. Morphological manifestations in Pan molars are not necessarily limited to the protocone and are best characterized by a lingual cingulum that cannot be captured by the ASUDAS. Cusp-like structures, similar to those seen in marked Carabelli's trait expressions in H. sapiens, were not found in Pan. This study provides a foundation for further analyses on the evolutionary history of mesiolingual dental traits within the hominoid lineage. It also highlights the wealth of morphological data that can be obtained at the EDJ for understanding tooth development and for characterizing tooth crown variation in worn fossil teeth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Physical / methods
  • Dental Enamel / anatomy & histology*
  • Dental Enamel / diagnostic imaging
  • Dentin / anatomy & histology*
  • Dentin / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Molar / anatomy & histology*
  • Molar / diagnostic imaging
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed