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J Morphol. 1987 Nov;194(2):143-61.

The growth of the skull and jaw muscles and its functional consequences in the New Zealand rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

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Department of Anatomy and Embryology, Academic Center for Dentistry Amsterdam (ACTA), Holland.


Between weaning and adulthood, the length and height of the facial skull of the New Zealand rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) double, whereas much less growth occurs in the width of the face and in the neurocranium. There is a five-fold increase in mass of the masticatory muscles, caused mainly by growth in cross-sectional area. The share of the superficial masseter in the total mass increases at the cost of the jaw openers. There are changes in the direction of the working lines of a few muscles. A 3-dimensional mechanical model was used to predict bite forces at different mandibular positions. It shows that young rabbits are able to generate large bite forces at a wider range of mandibular positions than adults and that the forces are directed more vertically. In young and adult animals, the masticatory muscles differ from each other with respect to the degree of gape at which optimum sarcomere length is reached. Consequently, bite force can be maintained over a range of gapes, larger than predicted on basis of individual length-tension curves. Despite the considerable changes in skull shape and concurrent changes in the jaw muscles, the direction of the resultant force of the closing muscles and its mechanical advantage remain stable during growth. Observed phenomena suggest that during development the possibilities for generation of large bite forces are increased at the cost of a restriction of the range of jaw excursion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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