Caiman periodontium as an intermediate between basal vertebrate ankylosis-type attachment and mammalian "true" periodontium.
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The teeth of many fish, amphibia, and reptiles are attached to the alveolar bone via ankylosis. In contrast, mammalian periodontia are characterized by a gomphosis, an attachment of the tooth root in the alveolar bone socket via periodontal ligament fibers. Among the reptiles, the crocodilians are the only group featuring a gomphosis-type connection between tooth root and alveolar bone, while in other reptiles tooth-root and jawbone are connected via ankylosis. The purpose of the present study was to compare several key features of the crocodilian periodontium with those of the mammalian and noncrocodilian reptile periodontium. As experimental models for our study we chose the periodontium of newborn geckos (Hemidacylus turcicus), juvenile caimans (Caiman crocodilus crocodilus), and 10-day-postnatal Swiss-Webster mice (Mus musculus) as representative models for noncrocodilian reptiles, crocodilian reptiles, and mammals. The caiman periodontium emerged as an intermediary between the mineral-free mouse ligament and the mineralized gecko ankylosis-type attachment. Caiman ligament fibers were less organized than mouse ligament fibers but featured distinct fasciae surrounding ligament fiber bundles. Caiman Hertwig's epithelial root sheath (HERS) was similarly perforated as mouse HERS and distinctly different from the continuous gecko HERS. Both caiman and mouse HERS covered the entire tooth root length, while in the gecko HERS was limited to the coronal portion of the root, allowing for cementoid-mediated ankylosis at the apical tip of the root. We interpret our data to indicate distinct differences in mineral distribution, periodontal ligament fiber organization, and HERS distribution between noncrocodilian reptiles, crocodilian reptiles, and mammals. Mineral deposits in the caiman ligament may reflect an evolutionary position of the caiman periodontium between ankylosis and gomphosis.