During vertebrate head evolution, muscle changes accompanied radical modification of the skeleton. Recent studies have suggested that muscles and their innervation evolve less rapidly than cartilage. The freshwater teleostean zebrafish (Danio rerio) is the most studied actinopterygian model organism, and is sometimes taken to represent osteichthyans as a whole, which include bony fishes and tetrapods. Most work concerning zebrafish cranial muscles has focused on larval stages. We set out to describe the later development of zebrafish head muscles and compare muscle homologies across the Osteichthyes.
We describe one new muscle and show that the number of mandibular, hyoid and hypobranchial muscles found in four day-old zebrafish larvae is similar to that found in the adult. However, the overall configuration and/or the number of divisions of these muscles change during development. For example, the undivided adductor mandibulae of early larvae gives rise to the adductor mandibulae sections A0, A1-OST, A2 and Aω, and the protractor hyoideus becomes divided into dorsal and ventral portions in adults. There is not always a correspondence between the ontogeny of these muscles in the zebrafish and their evolution within the Osteichthyes. All of the 13 mandibular, hyoid and hypobranchial muscles present in the adult zebrafish are found in at least some other living teleosts, and all except the protractor hyoideus are found in at least some extant non-teleost actinopterygians. Of these muscles, about a quarter (intermandibularis anterior, adductor mandibulae, sternohyoideus) are found in at least some living tetrapods, and a further quarter (levator arcus palatini, adductor arcus palatini, adductor operculi) in at least some extant sarcopterygian fish.
Although the zebrafish occupies a rather derived phylogenetic position within actinopterygians and even within teleosts, with respect to the mandibular, hyoid and hypobranchial muscles it seems justified to consider it an appropriate representative of these two groups. Among these muscles, the three with clear homologues in tetrapods and the further three identified in sarcopterygian fish are particularly appropriate for comparisons of results between the actinopterygian zebrafish and the sarcopterygians.