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J Anat. 2010 Nov;217(5):507-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2010.01287.x. Epub 2010 Aug 30.

Fetal and infant growth patterns of the mandibular symphysis in modern humans and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).

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Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, Austria.


Comparison of the early development of the mandibular symphysis between primates and modern humans is of particular interest in human palaeontology. Using geometric morphometric methods, we explored and compared the ontogenetic shape changes of 14 chimpanzee mandibles (Pan troglodytes) against 66 human CT-scanned mandibles over the age range from fetal life to the complete emergence of the deciduous dentition in a visualization incorporating the deciduous tooth arrangement. The results reveal that the symphysis is anteriorly inclined in the youngest chimpanzee fetuses but develops an increasingly vertical orientation up until birth. At the same time, the anterior teeth reorient before a vertical emergence, and a symphyseal tuber appears on the labial side. When the deciduous canine emerges, the symphysis inclines anteriorly again, exhibiting the adult characteristic slope. These two phases are characterized by a repositioning of the simian shelf. Unlike chimpanzees, the human symphysis remains vertical throughout fetal development. However, the combination of morphological changes observed in chimpanzee fetuses is similar to that of modern humans after birth, as the mental region projects forward. By elongating the alveolar process, the inclination of the chimpanzee symphysis could be a key event for emergence of the deciduous canine, as space is lacking at the alveolar ridge in a vertical symphysis once the deciduous incisors and molars have emerged. The repositioning of the simian shelf suggests that the suprahyoid muscles have a significant influence on the anterior growth of the symphysis. The anteroposterior positioning of the basal symphysis in both species may be related to hyoid bone position during ontogeny.

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