Comparative histology of some craniofacial sutures and skull-base synchondroses in non-avian dinosaurs and their extant phylogenetic bracket.


Alida M Bailleul, John R Horner


Journal of anatomy


Sutures and synchondroses, the fibrous and cartilaginous articulations found in the skulls of vertebrates, have been studied for many biological applications at the morphological scale. However, little is known about these articulations at the microscopic scale in non-mammalian vertebrates, including extant archosaurs (birds and crocodilians). The major goals of this paper were to: (i) document the microstructure of some sutures and synchondroses through ontogeny in archosaurs; (ii) compare these microstructures with previously published sutural histology (i.e. that of mammals); and (iii) document how these articulations with different morphological degrees of closure (open or obliterated) appear histologically. This was performed with histological analyses of skulls of emus, American alligators, a fossil crocodilian and ornithischian dinosaurs (hadrosaurids, pachycephalosaurids and ceratopsids). Emus and mammals possess a sutural periosteum until sutural fusion, but it disappears rapidly during ontogeny in American alligators. This study identified seven types of sutural mineralized tissues in extant and extinct archosaurs and grouped them into four categories: periosteal tissues; acellular tissues; fibrous tissues; and intratendinous tissues. Due to the presence of a periosteum in their sutures, emus and mammals possess periosteal tissues at their sutural borders. The mineralized sutural tissues of crocodilians and ornithischian dinosaurs are more variable and can also develop via a form of necrosis for acellular tissues and metaplasia for fibrous and intratendinous tissues. It was hypothesized that non-avian dinosaurs, like the American alligator, lacked a sutural periosteum and that their primary mode of ossification involved the direct mineralization of craniofacial sutures (instead of intramembranous ossification found in mammals and birds). However, we keep in mind that a bird-like sutural microstructure might have arisen within non-avian saurichians. While synchondroseal histology is relatively similar in archosaurs and mammals, the microstructural differences between the sutures of these two clades are undeniable. Moreover, the current results suggest that the degree of sutural closure can only accurately be known via microstructural analyses. This study sheds light on the microstructure and growth of archosaurian sutures and synchondroses, and reveals a unique, undocumented histological diversity in non-avian dinosaur skulls.



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