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Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2014 Nov;297(11):2196-204. doi: 10.1002/ar.23035.

The shrinking anthropoid nose, the human vomeronasal organ, and the language of anatomical reduction.

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School of Physical Therapy, Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania; Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Humans and most of our closest extant relatives, the anthropoids, are notable for their reduced "snout." The striking reduction in facial projection is only a superficial similarity. All anthropoids, including those with long faces (e.g., baboons), have lost numerous internal projections (turbinals) and spaces (recesses). In sum, this equates to the loss of certain regions of olfactory mucosa in anthropoids. In addition, an accessory olfactory organ, the vomeronasal organ, is non-functional or even absent in all catarrhine primates (humans, apes, monkeys). In this commentary, we revisit the concept of anatomical reductions as it pertains to the anthropoid nasal region. Certain nasal structures and spaces in anthropoids exhibit well-known attributes of other known vestiges, such as variability in form or number. The cupular recess (a vestige of the olfactory recess) and some rudimentary ethmoturbinals constitute reduced structures that presumably were fully functional in our ancestors. Humans and at least some apes retain a vestige that is bereft of chemosensory function (while in catarrhine monkeys it is completely absent). However, the function of the vomeronasal system also includes prenatal roles, which may be common to most or all mammals. Notably, neurons migrate to the brain along vomeronasal and terminal nerve axons during embryogenesis. The time-specific role of the VNO raises the possibility that our concept of functional reduction is too static. The vomeronasal system of humans and other catarrhine primates appears to qualify as a "chronological" vestige, one which fulfills part of its function during ontogeny, and then becomes lost or vestigial.


Atavism; VNO; nasal; nose; turbinals; vestige

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