Comparative microanatomy of the orbicularis oris muscle between chimpanzees and humans: evolutionary divergence of lip function

Carolyn R. Rogers, Mark P. Mooney, Timothy D. Smith, Seth M. Weinberg, Bridget M. Waller, Lisa A. Parr, Beth A. Docherty, Christopher J. Bonar, Lauren E. Reinholt, Frederic W.-B. Deleyiannis, Michael I. Siegel, Mary L. Marazita, Anne M. Burrows

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The orbicularis oris muscle plays a role in the production of primate facial expressions and vocalizations, nutrient intake, and in some non-human primates it is used as a prehensile, manipulative tool. As the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) is the closest living relative of humans, a comparison of the orbicularis oris muscle between these species may increase our understanding of the morphological specializations related to the differing functional demands of their lips and the factors responsible for their divergent evolution. To this end, this study compares the microanatomy of the mid-line upper fibers of the orbicularis oris muscle between chimpanzees and humans. A mid-line portion of the orbicularis oris muscle was harvested from the upper lips of three chimpanzee and five human cadavers. The sampled blocks included the area between the lateral borders of the nasal alar cartilages in both species. Each sample was processed for paraffin histology, sectioned and stained with a variety of protocols. Sections were examined for fiber direction and relative thickness of muscle layers. Ratios of cross-sectional connective tissue area vs. cross-sectional muscle tissue area, muscle fiber diameter and relative dermal thickness were calculated for each species. In both species, a clear pars marginalis layer was recognized, contrary to previous reports that only humans possess this layer. In chimpanzees, the relative fiber diameter and relative amount of muscle tissue (i.e. based on ratio of connective tissue area : muscle tissue area) were significantly (P < 0.05) greater than in humans. In contrast, measurements of relative dermal thickness showed that humans have a greater average dermal thickness of the upper lip than chimpanzees. Taken together, these results suggest that both human and chimpanzee orbicularis oris muscle upper fibers meet the specific functional demands associated with their divergent vocal and facial display repertoires, the development of human speech, and the use of the upper lip as a prehensile tool in chimpanzees.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-44
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


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