Blood vessels act as tissue engineers during facial development, guiding the formation of jaw structures in mice, according to research from South Australia.
Quenten Schwarz and Sophie Wiszniak at the Neurovascular Research Laboratory led the research, which revealed the role of blood vessels extended beyond simply being tubes that deliver oxygen and nutrition around the body.
“Our research shows that blood vessels are critical to set up the right environment for cartilage growth in the jaw,” Quenten says.
In humans and other mammals, the jaw takes shape during embryonic life when a scaffold-like structure known as Meckel’s cartilage forms. Sophie found that Meckel’s cartilage only grows correctly in mice when normal jaw blood vessels become established and release molecules that guide cartilage-forming cells.
“We think it’s a growth factor or maybe a cytokine that is released,” Sophie says.
It looks like a similar process guides human jaw development. By studying people with hemifacial microsomia—a condition in which the lower half of one side of the face is underdeveloped—the researchers found poor jaw growth coincides with incomplete formation of the mandibular artery, the main blood vessel that runs along and within the jaw.
This novel finding may improve understanding of why common craniofacial abnormalities occur, but could also guide new treatments for defective cartilage in conditions like arthritis, or following injury.
The study was performed at the Centre for Cancer Biology—an alliance between the University of South Australia and SA Pathology—in collaboration with the Australian Craniofacial Unit and University College London.