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Keywords:

  • Cranial deformation;
  • finite element analysis;
  • geometric morphometrics;
  • multibody dynamic analysis;
  • muscle activation;
  • sensitivity study

Abstract

Biomechanical analyses are commonly conducted to investigate how craniofacial form relates to function, particularly in relation to dietary adaptations. However, in the absence of corresponding muscle activation patterns, incomplete muscle data recorded experimentally for different individuals during different feeding tasks are frequently substituted. This study uses finite element analysis (FEA) to examine the sensitivity of the mechanical response of a Macaca fascicularis cranium to varying muscle activation patterns predicted via multibody dynamic analysis. Relative to the effects of varying bite location, the consequences of simulated variations in muscle activation patterns and of the inclusion/exclusion of whole muscle groups were investigated. The resulting cranial deformations were compared using two approaches; strain maps and geometric morphometric analyses. The results indicate that, with bite force magnitude controlled, the variations among the mechanical responses of the cranium to bite location far outweigh those observed as a consequence of varying muscle activations. However, zygomatic deformation was an exception, with the activation levels of superficial masseter being most influential in this regard. The anterior portion of temporalis deforms the cranial vault, but the remaining muscles have less profound effects. This study for the first time systematically quantifies the sensitivity of an FEA model of a primate skull to widely varying masticatory muscle activations and finds that, with the exception of the zygomatic arch, reasonable variants of muscle loading for a second molar bite have considerably less effect on cranial deformation and the resulting strain map than does varying molar bite point. The implication is that FEA models of biting crania will generally produce acceptable estimates of deformation under load as long as muscle activations and forces are reasonably approximated. In any one FEA study, the biological significance of the error in applied muscle forces is best judged against the magnitude of the effect that is being investigated.