Diminution of pharyngeal segmentation and the evolution of the amniotes

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Background: The pharyngeal arches are a series of bulges found on the lateral surface of the head of vertebrate embryos, and it is within these segments that components of the later anatomy are laid down. In most vertebrates, the post-otic pharyngeal arches will form the branchial apparatus, while in amniotes these segments are believed to generate the larynx. It has been unclear how the development of these segments has been altered with the emergence of the amniotes. Results: In this study, we examined the development of pharyngeal arches in amniotes and show that the post-otic pharyngeal arches in this clade are greatly diminished. We find that the post-otic segments do not undergo myogenesis or skeletogenesis, but are remodelled before these processes occur. We also find that nested DLX expression, which is a feature of all the pharyngeal arches in anamniotes, is associated with the anterior segments but less so with the posterior arches in amniotes. We further show that the posterior arches of the mouse embryo fail to properly delineate, which demonstrates the lack of function of these posterior segments in later development. Conclusion: In amniotes, there has been a loss of the ancestral "branchial" developmental programme that is a general feature of gnathostomes; myogenesis and skeletogenesis This is likely to have facilitated the emergence of the larynx as a new structure not constrained by the segmental organisation of the posterior pharyngeal region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalZoological letters
Issue number1
Early online date11 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Amniote evolution
  • DLX
  • Larynx
  • Pharyngeal arch
  • Pharyngeal pouch
  • Pharyngeal segmentation


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