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Keywords:

  • skeletal robusticity;
  • mechanical loading;
  • bone;
  • puberty

Abstract

Patterns of variation in bone size and shape provide crucial data for reconstructing hominin paleobiology, including ecogeographic adaptation, life history, and functional morphology. Measures of bone strength, including robusticity (diaphyseal thickness relative to length) and cross-sectional geometric properties such as moments of area, are particularly useful for inferring behavior because bone tissue adapts to its mechanical environment.1–4, 5 Particularly during skeletal growth, exercise-induced strains can stimulate periosteal modeling so that, to some extent, bone thickness reflects individual behavior. Thus, patterns of skeletal robusticity have been used to identify gender-based activity differences, temporal shifts in mobility, and changing subsistence strategies.6–9, 10 Although there is no doubt that mechanical loading leaves its mark on the skeleton, less is known about whether individuals differ in their skeletal responses to exercise. For example, the potential effects of hormones or growth factors on bone-strain interactions are largely unexplored. If the hormonal background can increase or decrease the effects of exercise on skeletal robusticity, then the same mechanical loads might cause different degrees of bone response in different individuals.11 Here I focus on the role of the hormone estrogen in modulating exercise-induced changes in human bone thickness.