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BMC Dev Biol. 2008 Dec 16;8:116. doi: 10.1186/1471-213X-8-116.

Patterning of palatal rugae through sequential addition reveals an anterior/posterior boundary in palatal development.

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Molecular Zoology, Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université Lyon 1, CNRS, INRA, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Lyon, France.



The development of the secondary palate has been a main topic in craniofacial research, as its failure results in cleft palate, one of the most common birth defects in human. Nevertheless, palatal rugae (or rugae palatinae), which are transversal ridges developing on the secondary palate, received little attention. However, rugae could be useful as landmarks to monitor anterior/posterior (A/P) palatal growth, and they provide a simple model of mesenchymal-epithelial structures arranged in a serial pattern.


We first determined in which order the nine mouse rugae appear during development. Our results revealed a reiterative process, which is coupled with A/P growth of palatal shelves, and by which rugae 3 to 7b are sequentially interposed, in the increasing distance between the second most anterior ruga, ruga 2, and the two most posterior rugae, rugae 8 and 9. We characterized the steps of ruga interposition in detail, showing that a new ruga forms from an active zone of high proliferation rate, next to the last formed ruga. Then, by analyzing the polymorphism of wild type and Eda(Ta) mutant mice, we suggest that activation-inhibition mechanisms may be involved in positioning new rugae, like for other skin appendages. Finally, we show that the ruga in front of which new rugae form, i.e. ruga 8 in mouse, coincides with an A/P gene expression boundary in the palatal shelves (Shox2/Meox2-Tbx22). This coincidence is significant, since we also found it in hamster, despite differences in the adult ruga pattern of these two species.


We showed that palatal rugae are sequentially added to the growing palate, in an interposition process that appears to be dependent on activation-inhibition mechanisms and reveals a new developmental boundary in the growing palate. Further studies on rugae may help to shed light on both the development and evolution of structures arranged in regular patterns. Moreover, rugae will undoubtedly be powerful tools to further study the anteroposterior regionalization of the growing palate.

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