Metacarpal head biomechanics: a comparative backscattered electron image analysis of trabecular bone mineral density in Pan troglodytes, Pongo pygmaeus, and Homo sapiens.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Great apes and humans use their hands in fundamentally different ways, but little is known about joint biomechanics and internal bone variation. This study examines the distribution of mineral density in the third metacarpal heads in three hominoid species that differ in their habitual joint postures and loading histories. We test the hypothesis that micro-architectural properties relating to bone mineral density reflect habitual joint use. The third metacarpal heads of Pan troglodytes, Pongo pygmaeus, and Homo sapiens were sectioned in a sagittal plane and imaged using backscattered electron microscopy (BSE-SEM). For each individual, 72 areas of subarticular cortical (subchondral) and trabecular bone were sampled from within 12 consecutive regions of the BSE-SEM images. In each area, gray levels (representing relative mineralization density) were quantified. Results show that chimpanzee, orangutan, and human metacarpal III heads have different gray level distributions. Weighted mean gray levels (WMGLs) in the chimpanzee showed a distinct pattern in which the 'knuckle-walking' regions (dorsal) and 'climbing' regions (palmar) are less mineralized, interpreted to reflect elevated remodeling rates, than the distal regions. Pongo pygmaeus exhibited the lowest WMGLs in the distal region, suggesting elevated remodeling rates in this region, which is loaded during hook grip hand postures associated with suspension and climbing. Differences among regions within metacarpal heads of the chimpanzee and orangutan specimens are significant (Kruskal-Wallis, p < 0.001). In humans, whose hands are used for manipulation as opposed to locomotion, mineralization density is much more uniform throughout the metacarpal head. WMGLs were significantly (p < 0.05) lower in subchondral compared to trabecular regions in all samples except humans. This micro-architectural approach offers a means of investigating joint loading patterns in primates and shows significant differences in metacarpal joint biomechanics among great apes and humans.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Zeininger, A; Richmond, BG; Hartman, G

Published Date

  • June 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 60 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 703 - 710

PubMed ID

  • 21316735

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1095-8606

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0047-2484

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.01.002


  • eng