The vertebrate tongue is a complex muscular organ situated in the oral cavity and involved in multiple functions including mastication, taste sensation, articulation and the maintenance of oral health. Although the gross embryological contributions to tongue formation have been known for many years, it is only relatively recently that the molecular pathways regulating these processes have begun to be discovered. In particular, there is now evidence that the Hedgehog, TGF-Beta, Wnt and Notch signaling pathways all play an important role in mediating appropriate signaling interactions between the epithelial, cranial neural crest and mesodermal cell populations that are required to form the tongue. In humans, a number of congenital abnormalities that affect gross morphology of the tongue have also been described, occurring in isolation or as part of a developmental syndrome, which can greatly impact on the health and well-being of affected individuals. These anomalies can range from an absence of tongue formation (aglossia) through to diminutive (microglossia), enlarged (macroglossia) or bifid tongue. Here, we present an overview of the gross anatomy and embryology of mammalian tongue development, focusing on the molecular processes underlying formation of the musculature and connective tissues within this organ. We also survey the clinical presentation of tongue anomalies seen in human populations, whilst considering their developmental and genetic etiology.
- Cranial neural crest
- Hedgehog signaling