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Evol Dev. 2008 Jul-Aug;10(4):477-86. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2008.00258.x.

The taming of the shrew milk teeth.

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Developmental Biology Program, Institute of Biotechnology, Viikki Biocenter, PO Box 56, University of Helsinki, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland.


A characteristic feature of mammalian dentition is the evolutionary reduction of tooth number and replacement. Because mice do not replace teeth, here we used Sorex araneus, the common shrew, as a model to investigate the loss of tooth replacement. Historically, shrews have been reported to initiate the development of several, milk or deciduous teeth but these soon become rudimentary and only the replacement teeth erupt. Shrews thus offer a living example of a derived mammalian pattern where the deciduous tooth development is being suppressed. Based on histological and gene expression analyses of serial sections, we suggest that S. araneus has discernible tooth replacement only in the premolar 4 (P4) position. Both generations of teeth express Shh in the enamel knot and in the inner enamel epithelium. Nevertheless, the deciduous P4 (dP4) is reduced in size during embryogenesis and is eventually lost without becoming functional. Analysis of growth shows that P4 replaces the dP4 in a "double-wedge" pattern indicative of competitive replacement where the suppression of the deciduous tooth coincides with the initiation of its replacement. Because activator-inhibitor mechanisms have been implicated in adjacent mouse molars and in transgenic mice with continuous tooth budding, we suggest that evolutionary suppression of deciduous teeth may involve early activation of replacement teeth, which in turn begin to suppress their deciduous predecessors.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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