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J Morphol. 2005 Jun;264(3):363-80.

Function of the mammalian postorbital bar.

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Department of Anatomy, New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, Old Westbury, New York 11568, USA.


Complete postorbital bars, bony arches that encompass the lateral aspect of the eye and form part of a circular orbit, have evolved homoplastically multiple times during mammalian evolution. Numerous functional hypotheses have been advanced for postorbital bars, the most promising being that postorbital bars function to stiffen the lateral orbit in taxa that have significant angular deviation between the temporal fossa and the bony orbit. Without a stiff lateral orbit the anterior temporalis muscle and fascia potentially would pull on the postorbital ligament, deform the orbit, and cause disruption of oculomotor precision. Morphometric data were collected on 1,329 specimens of 324 taxa from 16 orders of extant eutherian and metatherian mammals in order to test whether the orientation of the orbit relative to the temporal fossa is correlated with the replacement of the postorbital ligament with bone. The allometric and ecological influences on orbit orientation across mammals are also explored. The morphometric results corroborate the hypothesis: Shifts in orbit orientation relative to the temporal fossa are correlated with the size of the postorbital processes, which replace the ligament. The allometric and ecological factors that influence orbit orientation vary across taxa. Postorbital bars stiffen the lateral orbital wall. Muscle pulleys, ligaments, and other connective tissue attach to the lateral orbital wall, including the postorbital bar. Without a stiff lateral orbit, deformation due to temporalis contraction would displace soft tissues contributing to normal oculomotor function.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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