Tag Archives: Cranial integration

Face and brain

The brain is a soft-tissue organ surrounded by the bony structure of the skull, where changes in one require changes in the other. From infancy, the bones of the skull are separated by membranous sutures and with rapid brain expansion, these membranous regions of the skull are replaced by bone, fusing the skull into a protective structure around the adult brain. Ontogeny describes changes in the same anatomical structure throughout the life cycle, including the differences between age groups, within a species and across species, while allometry can explain size-related changes to skull shape, particularly between species. The individual bones of the skull join at sutures to form modules which include the facial block, the cranial vault and the cranial base.

A new paper by Scott et al. (2018) examined allometry and ontogeny in the hominid skull. The skulls from three hominid (great ape) species included the Bornean orangutan, the Western lowland gorilla and the common chimpanzee from several age groups were analyzed, and geometric morphometrics was used to capture shape change and allometry in the facial block and endocranium (as an indirect proxy for brain form). Covariation between the facial block and endocranium was tested using 2-block partial least-squares analysis. Results for ontogeny suggested endocranial change was lesser in younger age groups but with increasing age, orangutans separated from gorillas and chimpanzees, showing the greatest difference in face-to-brain shape. Results for allometry indicated that changes in facial shape were mostly related to size differences. However, the endocranium was not entirely influenced by changes in size, suggesting shape change in the endocranium is somewhat independent.

Ultimately, Scott and colleagues have shown the covariation between the facial block and the endocranium was more conserved in all three ape species in younger age groups, but the facial block continued to change shape into adulthood even after the brain growth had stopped. This suggests the endocranium is driven by changes to brain form during earlier stages of life before the cranial vault exerts a greater influence in late adolescence. However, the greatest change to skull morphology occurred during adulthood in facial shape.

Alannah Pearson

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The middle cranial fossa

Bastir et al 2011The middle cranial fossa houses the anterior and lateral portions of the temporal lobes. The evolutionary changes of this area in the human genus have been largely investigated by different teams coordinated by Markus Bastir and Antonio Rosas, at the Museum of Natural History, Madrid, Spain. They suggested that inter-specific differences in its morphology (namely a forward displacement of its anterior tip) can be associated with the relative enlargement of the temporal lobes described in modern humans, when compared with apes. They also provided morphological evidence of general differences in the endocranial base between modern humans and Neandertals. In their last article they include also considerations on the sulcal pattern, as visible on the endocranial surface. We have to keep in mind that the endocranial base is influenced by many different factors, and many of them are not associated with actual brain changes. The central position in the cranial base makes the middle cranial fossa sensitive to the development and evolution of the many surrounding structures. The same authors have shown before that the morphology of the middle cranial fossa is significantly correlated in terms of spatial organization with the morphology of the mandibular ramus due to direct physical interaction, being integrated as a modular unit. This integration can be associated with interactions between basicranium, brain and masticatory system during evolution and development. The middle cranial fossa also correlates significantly with the face, constituting a “bridge” for the interaction between the face and the neurocranium. In sum, the morphology of this area can be influenced by traits and processes associated with the face, with the many factors involved in the morphogenesis of the cranial base, as well as with the endocranial soft tissues (brain, meninges, vessels). Despite the neuroanatomical evidence of relatively larger temporal areas in our species, the exact correspondence and match between middle cranial fossa and temporal lobes may be more complex than a simple equivalence between a structure and its negative mould.

Ana Sofia Pedro


Functional craniology

Bruner et al - Front Neuroanat 2014

Functional craniology and brain evolution:
from paleontology to biomedicine

Frontiers in Neuroanatomy 8,19 (2014)

[Free paper]