Assessment of the mechanical role of cranial sutures in the mammalian skull: Computational biomechanical modelling of the rat skull

Alana Sharp* (Corresponding Author), Hugo Dutel, Peter J. Watson, Flora Gröning, Nick Crumpton, Michael J Fagan, Susan E. Evans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Cranial sutures are fibrocellular joints between the skull bones that are progressively replaced with bone throughout ontogeny, facilitating growth and cranial shape change. This transition from soft tissue to bone is reflected in the biomechanical properties of the craniofacial complex. However, the mechanical significance of cranial sutures has only been explored at a few localised areas within the mammalian skull, and as such our understanding of suture function in overall skull biomechanics is still limited. Here, we sought to determine how the overall strain environment is affected by the complex network of cranial sutures in the mammal skull. We combined two computational biomechanical methods, multibody dynamics analysis and finite element analysis, to simulate biting in a rat skull and compared models with and without cranial sutures. Our results show that including complex sutures in the rat model does not substantially change overall strain gradients across the cranium, particularly strain magnitudes in the bones overlying the brain. However, local variations in strain magnitudes and patterns can be observed in areas close to the sutures. These results show that, during feeding, sutures may be more important in some regions than others. Sutures should therefore be included in models that
require accurate local strain magnitudes and patterns of cranial strain, particularly if models are developed for analysis of specific regions, such as the
temporomandibular joint or zygomatic arch. Our results suggest that, for mammalian skulls, cranial sutures might be more important for allowing brain expansion during growth than redistributing biting loads across the cranium in adults.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21555
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of morphology
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

We thank Sue Taft (University of Hull, UK) for her assistance in scanning the
specimens and measuring the bone material properties; the Viper High Performance
Computing facility of the University of Hull and its support team for their help and
assistance in running the FEAs; Anthony Herrel for access to and assistance with the
experimental facilities at the MNHN. This study was funded by Biotechnology and
Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) grants to S.E.E. (BB/H011854/1;
BB/M010287/1), M.J.F. (BB/H011668/1; BB/M008525/1) and F.G. (BB/M008061/1).


  • Rodent
  • craniofacial
  • cranial sutures
  • feeding
  • multibody dynamics analysis
  • Finite Element Analysis


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