In vivo and in vitro bone strain in the owl monkey circumorbital region and the function of the postorbital septum.
Anthropoids and tarsiers are the only vertebrates possessing a postorbital septum. This septum, formed by the frontal, alisphenoid, and zygomatic bones, separates the orbital contents from the temporal muscles. Three hypotheses suggest that the postorbital septum evolved to resist stresses acting on the skull during mastication or incision. The facial-torsion hypothesis posits that the septum resists twisting of the face about a rostrocaudal axis during unilateral mastication; the transverse-bending hypothesis argues that the septum resists caudally directed forces acting at the lateral orbital margin during mastication or incision; and the tension hypothesis suggests that the septum resists ventrally directed components of masseter muscle force during mastication and incision. This study evaluates these hypotheses using in vitro and in vivo bone strain data recorded from the circumorbital region of owl monkeys. Incisor loading of an owl monkey skull in vitro bends the face upward in the sagittal plane, compressing the interorbital region rostrocaudally and "buckling" the lateral orbital walls. Unilateral loading of the toothrow in vitro also bends the face in the sagittal plane, compressing the interorbital region rostrocaudally and buckling the working side lateral orbital wall. When the lateral orbital wall is partially cut, so as to reduce the width of its attachment to the braincase, the following changes in circumorbital bone strain patterns occur. During loading of the incisors, lower bone strain magnitudes are recorded in the interorbital region and lateral orbital walls. In contrast, during unilateral loading of the P3, higher bone strain magnitudes are observed in the interorbital region, and generally lower bone strain magnitudes are observed in the lateral orbital walls. During unilateral loading of the M2, higher bone strain magnitudes are observed in both the interorbital region and in the lateral orbital wall ipsilateral to the loaded molar. Comparisons of the in vitro results with data gathered in vivo suggest that, during incision and unilateral mastication, the face is subjected to upward bending in the sagittal plane resulting in rostrocaudal compression of the interorbital region. Modeling the lateral orbital walls as curved plates suggests that during mastication the working side wall is buckled due to the dorsally directed component of the maxillary bite force which causes upward bending of the face in the sagittal plane. The balancing side lateral orbital wall may also be buckled due to upward bending of the face in the sagittal plane as well as being twisted by the caudoventrally directed components of the superficial masseter muscle force. The in vivo data do not exclude the possibility that the postorbital septum functions to improve the structural integrity of the postorbital bar during mastication. However, there is no reason to believe that a more robust postorbital bar could not also perform this function. Hypotheses stating that the postorbital septum originally evolved to reinforce the skull against routine masticatory loads must explain why, rather than evolving a postorbital septum, the stem anthropoids did not simply enlarge their postorbital bars.
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