The developmental basis for scaling of mammalian tooth size

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When evolution leads to differences in body size, organs generally scale along. A well-known example of the tight relationship between organ and body size is the scaling of mammalian molar teeth. To investigate how teeth scale during development and evolution, we compared molar development in mouse and rat from initiation through final size. Whereas the linear dimensions of the rat first lower molar are twice that of the mouse molar, their shapes are largely the same. We found that scaling of the molars starts early, and that the rat molar is patterned equally as fast but in a larger size than the mouse molar. Using transcriptomics, we discovered that a known regulator of body size, insulin-like growth factor 1 ( Igf1 ), is more highly expressed in the rat molars compared to the mouse molars. Ex vivo and in vivo mouse models demonstrated that modulation of the IGF pathway reproduces several aspects of the observed scaling process. Furthermore, analysis of IGF1-treated mouse molars and computational modeling indicate that IGF signaling scales teeth by simultaneously enhancing growth and by inhibiting the cusp patterning program, thereby providing a relatively simple mechanism for scaling teeth during development and evolution. Finally, comparative data from shrews to elephants suggest that this scaling mechanism regulates the minimum tooth size possible, as well as the patterning potential of large teeth.

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