Evaluating the triplet hypothesis during rhythmic mastication in primates

J Exp Biol. 2018 Jan 16;221(Pt 2):jeb165985. doi: 10.1242/jeb.165985.


Mammalian mastication involves precise jaw movements including transverse movement of the mandible during the power stroke. Jaw elevation and transverse movement are driven by asymmetrical jaw elevator muscle activity, which is thought to include a phylogenetically primitive and conserved triplet motor pattern consisting of: triplet I (balancing side: superficial masseter and medial pterygoid; working side: posterior temporalis), which reaches onset, peak and offset first; and triplet II (working side: superficial masseter and medial pterygoid; balancing side: posterior temporalis), which is active second. Although the presence of a triplet motor pattern has been confirmed in several primate species, the prevalence of this motor pattern - i.e. the proportion of masticatory cycles that display it - has not been evaluated in primates. The present study quantifies the presence and prevalence of the triplet motor pattern in five different primate species, Eulemur fulvus, Propithecus verreauxi, Papio anubis, Macacafuscata and Pan troglodytes, using mean onset, peak and offset time relative to working superficial masseter. In all five of the species studied, the mean triplet motor pattern was observed at peak muscle activation, and in four out of the five species the triplet motor pattern occurred more frequently than expected at random at peak muscle activation and offset. Non-triplet motor patterns were observed in varying proportions at different time points in the masticatory cycle, suggesting that the presence or absence of the triplet motor pattern is not a binomial trait. Instead, the primate masticatory motor pattern is malleable within individual cycles, within individual animals and therefore within species.

Keywords: Chewing; EMG; Motor pattern; Motor synergy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Lemuridae / physiology
  • Macaca / physiology
  • Masseter Muscle / physiology
  • Mastication / physiology*
  • Masticatory Muscles / physiology*
  • Pan troglodytes / physiology
  • Papio anubis / physiology
  • Primates / physiology*
  • Strepsirhini / physiology