The Global Impact of Sutures Assessed in a Finite Element Model of a Macaque Cranium

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Abstract

The biomechanical significance of cranial sutures in primates is an open question because their global impact is unclear, and their material properties are difficult to measure. In this study, eight suture-bone functional units representing eight facial sutures were created in a finite element model of a monkey cranium. All the sutures were assumed to have identical isotropic linear elastic material behavior that varied in different modeling experiments, representing either fused or unfused sutures. The values of elastic moduli employed in these trials ranged over several orders of magnitude. Each model was evaluated under incisor, premolar, and molar biting conditions. Results demonstrate that skulls with unfused sutures permitted more deformations and experienced higher total strain energy. However, strain patterns remained relatively unaffected away from the suture sites, and bite reaction force was likewise barely affected. These findings suggest that suture elasticity does not substantially alter load paths through the macaque skull or its underlying rigid body kinematics. An implication is that, for the purposes of finite element analysis, omitting or fusing sutures is a reasonable modeling approximation for skulls with small suture volume fraction if the research objective is to observe general patterns of craniofacial biomechanics under static loading conditions. The manner in which suture morphology and ossification affect the mechanical integrity of skulls and their ontogeny and evolution awaits further investigation, and their viscoelastic properties call for dynamic simulations. Anat Rec 293:1477–1491, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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