Zoology (Jena) 2007 17;110(3):231-51. Epub 2007 May 17.
Department of Oral Health Sciences, Life Sciences Institute, University of British Columbia, Life Sciences Centre, 2350 Health Sciences Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z3.
This study explores the microscopic craniofacial morphogenesis of the oviparous African rock python (Python sebae) spanning the first two-thirds of the post-oviposition period. At the time of laying, the python embryo consists of largely undifferentiated mesenchyme and epithelium with the exception of the cranial base and trabeculae cranii, which are undergoing chondrogenesis. The facial prominences are well defined and are at a late stage, close to the time when lip fusion begins. Later (11-12d), specializations in the epithelia begin to differentiate (vomeronasal and olfactory epithelia, teeth). Dental development in snakes is different from that of mammals in several aspects including an extended dental lamina with the capacity to form 4 sets of generational teeth. In addition, the ophidian olfactory system is very different from the mammalian. There is a large vomeronasal organ, a nasal cavity proper and an extraconchal space. All of these areas are lined with a greatly expanded olfactory epithelium. Intramembranous bone differentiation is taking place at stage 3 with some bones already ossifying whereas most are only represented as mesenchymal condensations. In addition to routine histological staining, PCNA immunohistochemistry reveals relatively higher levels of proliferation in the extending dental laminae, in osseous mesenchymal condensations and in the olfactory epithelia. Areas undergoing apoptosis were noted in the enamel organs of the teeth and osseous mesenchymal condensations. We propose that localized apoptosis helps to divide a single condensation into multiple ossification centres and this is a mechanism whereby novel morphology can be selected in response to evolutionary pressures. Several additional differences in head morphology between snakes and other amniotes were noted including a palatal groove separating the inner and outer row of teeth in the upper jaw, a tracheal opening within the tongue and a pharyngeal adhesion that closes off the pharynx from the oral cavity between stages 1 and 4. Our studies on these and other differences in the python will provide valuable insights into in developmental, molecular and evolutionary mechanisms of patterning.