Comparative anatomy and osteohistology of hyperelongate neural spines in the sphenacodontids Sphenacodon and Dimetrodon (Amniota: Synapsida)



Osteohistological investigations of hyperelongate vertebral spinous processes (neural spines) are presented to elucidate previously unknown aspects of dorsal sail form and function in two, closely related genera of “sail-backed” synapsids: Sphenacodon and Dimetrodon. Although recent and classic surveys of bone histology in extinct vertebrates have sampled the genus Dimetrodon, new sectioning of Sphenacodon material allows a comparative analysis of these structures among Sphenacodontidae for the first time. Variability within the histological organization of the neural spine is assessed by examining multiple regions along its length, and implications for soft tissue correlates, growth and mechanics are considered here. Both genera exhibit extensive parallel-fibered and fibrolamellar bone, in addition to lamellar bone. Several features vary along the length of the spine in each species. Muscle scars and extensive Sharpey's fibers are present at the base of the spine; no scars and fewer fibers are manifested ∼55–60 mm above the zygapophyses in mature individuals. The distal cortex of the spine does not exhibit greater vascularity than the proximal region in either genus. However, both genera manifest distinct vascular grooves of variable size along the distal periosteal surface, some of which become incorporated into the distal cortex. The observed histovariability appears to record the transition from the proximal (epaxial muscle embedded) to the distally protruding portion of the spine. These observations and independent pathological evidence support the existence of a short dorsal crest in Sphenacodon and possibly other basal sphenacodontids. Although the thermoregulatory capacity of such a crest remains uncertain, developmental and mechanical features are readily interpretable and are discussed with respect to the origins and early evolution of the dorsal sail in sphenacodontid synapsids. J.Morphol., 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.