The Developmental Reduction of the Marsupial Coracoid: A Case Study in Monodelphis domestica

Department of Animal Biology, School of Integrative Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA.
Journal of Morphology (Impact Factor: 1.74). 07/2010; 271(7):769-76. DOI: 10.1002/jmor.10832
Source: PubMed


During their embryogenesis, marsupials develop a unique structure, the shoulder arch, which provides the structural and muscle-attachment support necessary for the newborn's crawl to the teat. One of the most pronounced and important aspects of the shoulder arch is an enlarged coracoid. After marsupial newborns reach the teat, the shoulder arch is remodeled and the coracoid is reduced to a small process on the scapula. Although an understanding of marsupial coracoid reduction has the potential to provide insights into both, marsupial evolution and the origin of mammals, little is known about the morphological and cellular processes controlling this process. To remedy this situation, this study examined the morphological and cellular mechanisms behind coracoid reduction in the gray short-tailed opossum, Monodelphis domestica. A quantitative, morphometric study of shoulder girdle development revealed that the coracoid is reduced in size relative to other aspects of the shoulder girdle by growing at a slower rate. Using a series of molecular assays for cell death, no evidence was found for programmed cell death playing a role in the reduction of coracoid size in marsupials (in contrast to hypotheses of previous researchers). Although it is likely the case that coracoid growth is reduced through a relatively lower rate of cellular proliferation, differences in proliferative rates in the coracoid and scapula were not great enough to be quantified using standard molecular assays.

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    • "This raises the possibility that the process suggested by Hubler et al. (2010) for coracoid loss within mammals might explain other cases of late ossification coinciding with reduction or loss of bones (Sánchez-Villagra et al. 2008; Weisbecker and Mitgutsch 2010), but more data are needed to confirm this. "
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