Ontogenetic patterns of morphological variation in the ectocranial human vault

Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2013 Jul;296(7):1008-15. doi: 10.1002/ar.22718. Epub 2013 May 15.


The skull is considered a modular structure in which different parts are influenced by different factors and, as a result, achieve adult shape at different ages. Previous studies have suggested that the basicranium presents a modular pattern that distinguishes sagittal and lateral parts, probably affected by the brain and masticatory structures, respectively. The vault of modern humans, in contrast, has been considered as a highly integrated system mainly influenced by brain growth. Here, we explored developmental shape variation in sagittal and lateral ectocranial vault in humans in order to assess if both regions are ontogenetically dissociated. We used a sample of 135 cranial computed tomography images from 0 to 31 ages. Landmarks and semilandmarks were collected on sagittal and lateral regions and geometric morphometric techniques were applied separately for each region. On the shape coordinates, we used Goodall's F-test in order to assess the age when the adult configuration is attained. Principal component analysis enabled us to evaluate shape variation during ontogeny. Results indicated that both sagittal and lateral structures attain adult shape at early adolescence. Both regions express coordinated shape modifications probably due to shared developmental factors. It is concluded that masticatory muscles may not exert a strong enough influence to produce independent variation in the lateral traits. Thus, it is likely that the brain integrates sagittal and lateral parts of the vault across human ontogeny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aging
  • Anatomic Landmarks
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cephalometry
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Morphogenesis
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Skull / diagnostic imaging
  • Skull / growth & development*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Young Adult