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J Hum Evol. 2003 Oct;45(4):263-84.

Brain expansion and comparative prenatal ontogeny of the non-hominoid primate cranial base.

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  • 1Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Liverpool, Ashton Street, Liverpool L69 3GE, UK.


The basicranium is the keystone of the primate skull, and understanding its morphological interdependence on surrounding soft-tissue structures, such as the brain, can reveal important mechanisms of skull development and evolution. In particular, several extensive investigations have shown that, across extant adult primates, the degree of basicranial flexion and petrous orientation are closely linked to increases in brain size relative to cranial base length. The aim of this study was to determine if an equivalent link exists during prenatal life. Specific hypotheses tested included the idea that increases in relative endocranial size (IRE5), relative infratentorial size (RIE), and differential encephalization (IDE) determine the degree of basicranial flexion and coronal petrous reorientation during non-hominoid primate fetal development. Cross-sectional fetal samples of Alouatta caraya (n=17) and Macaca nemestrina (n=24) were imaged using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (hrMRI). Cranial base angles (CBA), petrous orientations (IPA), base lengths, and endocranial volumes were measured from the images. Findings for both samples showed retroflexion, or flattening, of the cranial base and coronal petrous reorientation as well as considerable increases in absolute and relative brain sizes. Although significant correlations of both IRE5 and RIE were observed against CBA and IPA, the correlation with CBA was in the opposite direction to that predicted by the hypotheses. Variations of IDE were not significantly correlated with either angle. Correlations of IPA with IRE5 and RIE appeared to support the hypotheses. However, partial coefficients computed for all significant correlations indicated that changes to the fetal non-hominoid primate cranial base were more closely related to increases in body size than the hypothesized influence of relative brain enlargement. These findings were discussed together with those from a previous study of modern human fetuses.

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