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Morphological and functional implications of sexual dimorphism in the human skeletal thorax

AuthorsGarcía-Martínez, Daniel; Torres-Tamayo, Nicole; Torres-Sanchez, Isabel; García-Río, Francisco; Bastir, Markus
KeywordsSex differences
Rib cage
Geometric morphometrics
Issue DateNov-2016
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons
CitationAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology 161(3): 467-477 (2016)
AbstractObjectives: The human respiratory apparatus is characterized by sexual dimorphism, the cranial airways of males being larger (both absolutely and relatively) than those of females. These differences have been linked to sex-specific differences in body composition, bioenergetics, and respiratory function. However, whether morpho-functional variation in the thorax is also related to these features is less clear. We apply 3D geometric morphometrics to study these issues and their implications for respiratory function. Material and methods: Four hundred two landmarks and semilandmarks were measured in CT-reconstructions of rib cages from adult healthy subjects (N = 18; N = 24) in maximal inspiration (MI) and maximal expiration (ME). After Procrustes registration, size and shape data were analyzed by mean comparisons and regression analysis. Respiratory function was quantified through functional size, which is defined as the difference of rib cage size between MI and ME. Results: Males showed significantly larger thorax size (p <.01) and functional size (p <.05) than females. In addition, the 3D-shape differed significantly between sexes (p <.01). Male rib cages were wider (particularly caudally) and shorter, with more horizontally oriented ribs when compared to females. While thorax widening and rib orientation were unrelated to allometry, thorax shortening showed a slight allometric signal. Conclusions: Our findings are in line with previous research on sexual dimorphism of the respiratory system. However, we add that thorax shortening observed previously in males is the only feature caused by allometry. The more horizontally oriented ribs and the wider thorax of males may indicate a greater diaphragmatic contribution to rib cage kinematics than in females, and differences in functional size fit with the need for greater oxygen intake in males.
Identifiersdoi: 10.1002/ajpa.23051
issn: 1096-8644
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