Development and evolution of craniofacial patterning is mediated by eye-dependent and -independent processes in the cavefish Astyanax. Academic Article uri icon


  • We studied the development and evolution of craniofacial features in the teleost fish, Astyanax mexicanus. This species has an eyed surface dwelling form (surface fish) and many different cave dwelling forms (cavefish) with various degrees of reduced eyes and pigmentation. The craniofacial features we examined are the tooth-bearing maxillary bones, the nasal and antorbital bones, the circumorbital bones, and the opercular bones, all of which show evolutionary modifications in different cavefish populations. Manipulations of eye formation by transplantation of the embryonic lens, by lentectomy, or by removing the optic vesicle showed that eye-dependent and -independent processes change both the surface fish and cavefish craniofacial skeletons. The size of the olfactory pits, which the nasal and antorbital bones define, and the size and positioning of the circumorbital bones were found to correlate with eye development. For the six suborbital bones (SO1-6), the relationship with the developing eye appears to be due to ossification initiated from foci in the suborbital canal of cranial neuromasts, whose patterning is also highly correlated with the presence or absence of an eye. By contrast, we found that the number of maxillary teeth, the number of SO3 bone elements, the positioning of SO4-6 with respect to the opercular bone, and the shape of the opercular bone are not dependent on eye formation and vary among different cavefish populations. The results suggest that evolution of the cavefish craniofacial skeleton is controlled by multiple developmental events, some a direct consequence of eye degeneration and others unrelated to loss of the eye.

publication date

  • September 2003