Cranial sutures play a critical role in calvarial morphogenesis, serving as growth centers during skull development. Both biomechanical tensile forces originating in the cranial base and biochemical factors present in dura mater have been postulated as determinants of suture morphogenesis and patency. A rat transplant model free of the putative biomechanical influence of the dura and cranial base was used to investigate the role of the dura mater in both the initial morphogenesis and maintenance of sutures during skull growth. Day 19 fetal presumptive (F19) and day 1 neonatal differentiated (N1) coronal sutures, including associated frontal and parietal bones, were transplanted with or without underlying dura mater to the center of adult parietal bones. After 1, 2, and 3 weeks, transplanted tissues were examined histologically and histomorphometrically to determine whether sutures formed and whether they were obliterated by ossification in the absence of dura mater. Both F19 and N1 sutures remained patent for 2 weeks either in the presence or the absence of transplant dura mater. However, at 3 weeks, in the absence of transplant dura mater, sutures were obliterated by bone, while in the presence of dura mater sutures resisted ossification, demonstrating an essential requirement for interactions with the transplant dura mater in maintaining functional sutures. Both F19 and N1 transplants showed comparable bone growth (cross-sectional surface area), regardless of the presence of transplant dura mater. These experiments suggest that tissue interactions of a biochemical nature, rather than biomechanical forces generated through the cranial base, are required to maintain the suture as a non-ossified growth center. Furthermore, while the presence of dura mater was essential for maintenance of suture patency, fetal dura mater was not required for initial suture formation. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.