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J Anat. 1989 Feb;162:133-48.

The functional significance of the position of the centre of rotation for jaw opening and closing in the rabbit.

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Department of Anatomy and Embryology, Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam (ACTA), The Netherlands.


In the rabbit, jaw opening and closing occurs in combination with condylar protrusion and retraction. Consequently the centre of rotation (CR) for the movement lies in the inferior portion of the ascending ramus of the mandible, far below the condyle. This location is stable and independent of the type of food being chewed and the age of the animal. The topography of the soft tissues at the posterior border of the ramus is adapted to the movement pattern. The facial nerve crosses the space between skull and mandible at the level of the CR. The parotid gland lies behind the ramus between condyle and CR; below the CR, the gland is replaced by loose adipose tissue. A computer model was used to demonstrate that the location of the CR determines the amount of stretch of the large masseter and medial pterygoid muscles. Using parameters for passive elastic behaviour of muscle, obtained by postmortem measurements, it can be shown that the normal CR position minimises muscle stretch and passive elastic forces. Even a small upward displacement of the CR causes a significant amount of resistance in the jaw-closers at gapes comparable to those reached in natural mastication. A second, less dramatic effect of increased muscle stretch is a sharper decline of maximum possible active closing force, due to the interrelationship of fibre length and isometric tension. In young animals, the muscle fibres are relatively long but stiff; in adults they are shorter, but more compliant. In both ages the CR is located in such a way that masseter and medial pterygoid stretching is minimised. The high position of the temporomandibular joint ensures a maximal leverage for the muscles mentioned above. By separating the point where the reaction forces apply (the joint) from the location of the rotational axis, maximum leverage and minimal length changes of the jaw-closing muscles are achieved simultaneously. It is further suggested that elastic muscular forces play a role in determining the position of the CR.

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