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J Anat. 2018 Feb;232(2):227-237. doi: 10.1111/joa.12743. Epub 2017 Nov 17.

3D analysis of sexual dimorphism in size, shape and breathing kinematics of human lungs.

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Paleoanthropology Group, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), Madrid, Spain.
Biology Department, Faculty of Sciences, Autonoma University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
Hospital Universitario La Paz, Institute of Biomedical Research (Idipaz), Madrid, Spain.


Sexual dimorphism in the human respiratory system has been previously reported at the skeletal (cranial and thoracic) level, but also at the pulmonary level. Regarding lungs, foregoing studies have yielded sex-related differences in pulmonary size as well as lung shape details, but different methodological approaches have led to discrepant results on differences in respiratory patterns between males and females. The purpose of this study is to analyse sexual dimorphism in human lungs during forced respiration using 3D geometric morphometrics. Eighty computed tomographies (19 males and 21 females) were taken in maximal forced inspiration (FI) and expiration (FE), and 415 (semi)landmarks were digitized on 80 virtual lung models for the 3D quantification of pulmonary size, shape and kinematic differences. We found that males showed larger lungs than females (P < 0.05), and significantly greater size and shape differences between FI and FE. Morphologically, males have pyramidal lung geometry, with greater lower lung width when comparing with the apices, in contrast to the prismatic lung shape and similar widths at upper and lower lungs of females. Multivariate regression analyses confirmed the effect of sex on lung size (36.26%; P < 0.05) and on lung shape (7.23%; P < 0.05), and yielded two kinematic vectors with a small but statistically significant angle between them (13.22°; P < 0.05) that confirms sex-related differences in the respiratory patterns. Our 3D approach shows sexual dimorphism in human lungs likely due to a greater diaphragmatic action in males and a predominant intercostal muscle action in females during breathing. These size and shape differences would lead to different respiratory patterns between sexes, whose physiological implications need to be studied in future research.


expiration; inspiration; landmark; lungs; semilandmark; shape; size

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