Periodic patterns in Rodentia: Development and evolution.
Mammalian periodic pigment patterns, such as spots and stripes, have long interested mathematicians and biologists because they arise from non-random developmental processes that are programmed to be spatially constrained, and can therefore be used as a model to understand how organized morphological structures develop. Despite such interest, the developmental and molecular processes underlying their formation remain poorly understood. Here, we argue that Arvicanthines, a clade of African rodents that naturally evolved a remarkable array of coat patterns, represent a tractable model system in which to dissect the mechanistic basis of pigment pattern formation. Indeed, we review recent insights into the process of stripe formation that were obtained using an Arvicanthine species, the African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio), and discuss how these rodents can be used to probe deeply into our understanding of the factors that specify and implement positional information in the skin. By combining naturally evolved pigment pattern variation in rodents with classic and novel experimental approaches, we can substantially advance our understanding of the processes by which spatial patterns of cell differentiation are established during embryogenesis, a fundamental question in developmental biology.