Morphological evolution of the mammalian jaw adductor complex: Mammalian jaw muscle evolution

Stephan Lautenschlager, Pamela Gill, Zhe-Xi Luo, Michael J. Fagan, Emily J. Rayfield

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19 Citations (Scopus)
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The evolution of the mammalian jaw during the transition from non‐mammalian synapsids to crown mammals is a key event in vertebrate history and characterised by the gradual reduction of its individual bones into a single element and the concomitant transformation of the jaw joint and its incorporation into the middle ear complex. This osteological transformation is accompanied by a rearrangement and modification of the jaw adductor musculature, which is thought to have allowed the evolution of a more‐efficient masticatory system in comparison to the plesiomorphic synapsid condition. While osteological characters relating to this transition are well documented in the fossil record, the exact arrangement and modifications of the individual adductor muscles during the cynodont–mammaliaform transition have been debated for nearly a century.

We review the existing knowledge about the musculoskeletal evolution of the mammalian jaw adductor complex and evaluate previous hypotheses in the light of recently documented fossils that represent new specimens of existing species, which are of central importance to the mammalian origins debate. By employing computed tomography (CT) and digital reconstruction techniques to create three‐dimensional models of the jaw adductor musculature in a number of representative non‐mammalian cynodonts and mammaliaforms, we provide an updated perspective on mammalian jaw muscle evolution.

As an emerging consensus, current evidence suggests that the mammal‐like division of the jaw adductor musculature (into deep and superficial components of the m. masseter, the m. temporalis and the m. pterygoideus) was completed in Eucynodontia. The arrangement of the jaw adductor musculature in a mammalian fashion, with the m. pterygoideus group inserting on the dentary was completed in basal Mammaliaformes as suggested by the muscle reconstruction of Morganucodon oehleri. Consequently, transformation of the jaw adductor musculature from the ancestral (‘reptilian’) to the mammalian condition must have preceded the emergence of Mammalia and the full formation of the mammalian jaw joint. This suggests that the modification of the jaw adductor system played a pivotal role in the functional morphology and biomechanical stability of the jaw joint.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1910–1940
Number of pages31
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number4
Early online date23 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • mammalian evolution
  • Cynodontia
  • musculoskeletal evolution
  • vertebrate palaeontology
  • Mesozoic


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