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J R Soc Interface. 2010 Jan 6;7(42):153-60. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2009.0139. Epub 2009 May 27.

Predicting muscle activation patterns from motion and anatomy: modelling the skull of Sphenodon (Diapsida: Rhynchocephalia).

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  • 1Department of Engineering, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, UK.


The relationship between skull shape and the forces generated during feeding is currently under widespread scrutiny and increasingly involves the use of computer simulations such as finite element analysis. The computer models used to represent skulls are often based on computed tomography data and thus are structurally accurate; however, correctly representing muscular loading during food reduction remains a major problem. Here, we present a novel approach for predicting the forces and activation patterns of muscles and muscle groups based on their known anatomical orientation (line of action). The work was carried out for the lizard-like reptile Sphenodon (Rhynchocephalia) using a sophisticated computer-based model and multi-body dynamics analysis. The model suggests that specific muscle groups control specific motions, and that during certain times in the bite cycle some muscles are highly active whereas others are inactive. The predictions of muscle activity closely correspond to data previously recorded from live Sphenodon using electromyography. Apparent exceptions can be explained by variations in food resistance, food size, food position and lower jaw motions. This approach shows considerable promise in advancing detailed functional models of food acquisition and reduction, and for use in other musculoskeletal systems where no experimental determination of muscle activity is possible, such as in rare, endangered or extinct species.

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