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Open Access Research article

Epigenetic effects on the mouse mandible: common features and discrepancies in remodeling due to muscular dystrophy and response to food consistency

Sabrina Renaud1*, Jean-Christophe Auffray2 and Sabine de la Porte3

Author Affiliations

1 Paléoenvironnements et Paléobiosphère, UMR5125, CNRS, Université Lyon 1, Campus de la Doua, 69622 Villeurbanne, France

2 Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution, UMR 5554, CNRS, Université Montpellier 2, 34095 Montpellier, France

3 CNRS, Institut de Neurobiologie Alfred Fessard, FRC2118, Laboratoire de Neurobiologie Cellulaire et Moléculaire, UPR 9040, Gif sur Yvette, F-91198, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-28

Published: 27 January 2010



In wild populations phenotypic differentiation of skeletal structures is influenced by many factors including epigenetic interactions and plastic response to environmental influences, possibly blurring the expression of genetic differences. In contrast, laboratory animals provide the opportunity to separate environmental from genetic effects. The mouse mandible is particularly prone to such plastic variations because bone remodeling occurs late in postnatal ontogeny, in interaction with muscular loading. In order to understand the impact of this process on mandible morphology, we investigated how change in the masticatory function affects the mandible shape, and its pattern of variation. Breeding laboratory mice on food of different consistencies mimicked a natural variation in feeding ecology, whereas mice affected by the murine analogue of the Duchenne muscular dystrophy provided a case of pathological modification of the mastication process.


Food consistency as well as dystrophy caused significant shape changes in the mouse mandible. Further differences were observed between laboratory strains and between sexes within strains, muscular dystrophy causing the largest morphological change. The directions of the morphological changes due to food consistency and muscular dystrophy were discrepant, despite the fact that both are related to bone remodeling. In contrast, directions of greatest variance were comparable among most groups, and the direction of the change due to sexual dimorphism was parallel to the direction of main variance.


Bone remodeling is confirmed as an important factor driving mandible shape differences, evidenced by differences due to both the consistency of the food ingested and muscular dystrophy. However, the resulting shape change will depend on how the masticatory function is affected. Muscular dystrophy caused shape changes distributed all over the mandible, all muscles being affected although possibly to a different degree. In contrast, the chewing function was mostly affected when the mice were fed on hard vs. soft food, whereas grinding likely occurred normally; accordingly, shape change was more localized. The direction of greatest variance, however, was remarkably comparable among groups, although we found a residual variance discarding age, sex, and food differences. This suggests that whatever the context in which bone remodeling occurs, some parts of the mandible such as the angular process are more prone to remodeling during late postnatal growth.