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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2000 Aug;112(4):517-40.

Why fuse the mandibular symphysis? A comparative analysis.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052, and Human Origins Program, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, USA. danlieb@gwu.edu

Abstract

Fused symphyses, which evolved independently in several mammalian taxa, including anthropoids, are stiffer and stronger than unfused symphyses. This paper tests the hypothesis that orientations of tooth movements during occlusion are the primary basis for variations in symphyseal fusion. Mammals whose teeth have primarily dorsally oriented occlusal trajectories and/or rotate their mandibles during occlusion will not benefit from symphyseal fusion because it prevents independent mandibular movements and because unfused symphyses transfer dorsally oriented forces with equal efficiency; mammals with predominantly transverse power strokes are predicted to benefit from symphyseal fusion or greatly restricted mediolateral movement at the symphysis in order to increase force transfer efficiency across the symphysis in the transverse plane. These hypotheses are tested with comparative data on symphyseal and occlusal morphology in several mammals, and with kinematic and EMG analyses of mastication in opossums (Didelphis virginiana) and goats (Capra hircus) that are compared with published data on chewing in primates. Among mammals, symphyseal fusion or a morphology that greatly restricts movement correlates significantly with occlusal orientation: species with more transversely oriented occlusal planes tend to have fused symphyses. The ratio of working- to balancing-side adductor muscle force in goats and opossums is close to 1:1, as in macaques, but goats and opossums have mandibles that rotate independently during occlusion, and have predominantly vertically oriented tooth movements during the power stroke. Symphyseal fusion is therefore most likely an adaptation for increasing the efficiency of transfer of transversely oriented occlusal forces in mammals whose mandibles do not rotate independently during the power stroke.

Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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