To roll the eyes and snap a bite – function, development and evolution of craniofacial muscles

Frank R. Schubert, Arun J. Singh, Oluwatomisin Afoyalan, Chrissa Kioussi, Susanne Dietrich

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Craniofacial muscles, muscles that move the eyes, control facial expression and allow food uptake and speech, have long been regarded as a variation on the general body muscle scheme. However, evidence has accumulated that the function of head muscles, their developmental anatomy and the underlying regulatory cascades are distinct. This article reviews the key aspects of craniofacial muscle and muscle stem cell formation and discusses how this differs from the trunk programme of myogenesis; we show novel RNAseq data to support this notion. We also trace the origin of head muscle in the chordate ancestors of vertebrates and discuss links with smooth-type muscle in the primitive chordate pharynx. We look out as to how the special properties of head muscle precursor and stem cells, in particular their competence to contribute to the heart, could be exploited in regenerative medicine.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSeminars in Cell and Developmental Biology
Early online date10 Jan 2018
Publication statusEarly online - 10 Jan 2018


  • vertebrate head and neck muscle
  • eye muscle
  • jaw muscle
  • facial muscle
  • pharyngeal muscle
  • paraxial head mesoderm
  • secondary heart field
  • somites
  • Cyp26C1
  • Pitx2
  • Tbx1
  • MyoR/musculin
  • capsulin
  • MyoD
  • Pax7
  • RNAseq
  • chordate ancestors
  • cephalisation
  • muscular dystrophies
  • cardiovascular disease
  • stem-cell therapy


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