Osteichthyan and chondrichthyan fish present an astonishing diversity of skeletal and dental tissues that are often difficult to classify into the standard textbook categories of bone, cartilage, dentine and enamel. To address the question of how the tissues of the dermal skeleton evolved from the ancestral situation and gave rise to the diversity actually encountered, we review previous data on the development of a number of dermal skeletal elements (odontodes, teeth and dermal denticles, cranial dermal bones, postcranial dermal plates and scutes, elasmoid and ganoid scales, and fin rays). A comparison of developmental stages at the tissue level usually allows us to identify skeletogenic cell populations as either odontogenic or osteogenic on the basis of the place of formation of their dermal papillae and of the way of deposition of their tissues. Our studies support the evolutionary affinities (1) between odontodes, teeth and denticles, (2) between the ganoid scales of polypterids and the elasmoid scales of teleosts, and (3) to a lesser degree between the different bony elements. There is now ample evidence to ascertain that the tissues of the elasmoid scale are derived from dental and not from bony tissues. This review demonstrates the advantage that can be taken from developmental studies, at the tissue level, to infer evolutionary relationships within the dermal skeleton in chondrichthyans and osteichthyans.
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