Technical note: A landmark-based approach to the study of the ear ossicles using ultra-high-resolution X-ray computed tomography data



Previous study of the ear ossicles in Primates has demonstrated that they vary on both functional and phylogenetic bases. Such studies have generally employed two-dimensional linear measurements rather than three-dimensional data. The availability of Ultra- high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (UhrCT) has made it possible to accurately image the ossicles so that broadly accepted methodologies for acquiring and studying morphometric data can be applied. Using UhrCT data also allows for the ossicular chain to be studied in anatomical position, so that it is possible to consider the spatial and size relationships of all three bones. One issue impeding the morphometric study of the ear ossicles is a lack of broadly recognized landmarks. Distinguishing landmarks on the ossicles is difficult in part because there are only two areas of articulation in the ossicular chain, one of which (the malleus/incus articulation) has a complex three-dimensional form. A measurement error study is presented demonstrating that a suite of 16 landmarks can be precisely located on reconstructions of the ossicles from UhrCT data. Estimates of measurement error showed that most landmarks were highly replicable, with an average CV for associated interlandmark distances of less than 3%. The positions of these landmarks are chosen to reflect not only the overall shape of the bones in the chain and their relative positions, but also functional parameters. This study should provide a basis for further examination of the smallest bones in the body in three dimensions. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.