The biomechanical role of the chondrocranium and the material properties of cartilage

Marc E. H. Jones* (Corresponding Author), Flora Gröning, Richard Aspden, Hugo Dutel, Alana Sharp, Mehran Moazen, Michael J. Fagan, Susan E. Evans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


The chondrocranium is the cartilage component of the vertebrate braincase. Among jawed vertebrates it varies greatly in structure, mineralisation, and in the extent to which it is replaced by bone during development. In mammals, birds, and some bony fish, most of the chondrocranium is replaced by bone whereas in lizards, amphibians, and chondrichthyan fish it may remain a significant part of the braincase complex in adulthood. To what extent this variation relates to differences in skull biomechanics is poorly understood. However, there have been examinations of chondrocranium histology, in vivo strain, and impact on rostrum growth following partial removal of the chondrocranium. These studies have led to suggestions that the chondrocranium may provide structural support or serve to dampen external loads. Advances in computing-power have also facilitated an increase in the number of three-dimensional computer-based models. These models can be analysed (in silico) to test specific biomechanical hypotheses under specified loading conditions. However, representing the material properties of cartilage is still problematic because these properties differ according to the speed and direction of loading. The relationship between stress and strain is also non-linear. Nevertheless, analyses to date suggest that the chondrocranium does not provide a vertical support in lizards but it may serve to absorb some loads in humans. We anticipate that future models will include ever more detailed representations of the loading, anatomy, and material properties, in tandem with rigorous forms of model validation. However, comparison among a wider range of vertebrate subjects should also be pursued, in particular larvae, juveniles, and very small adult animals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-715
Number of pages18
JournalVertebrate Zoology
Issue number4
Early online date24 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

We thank Ingmar Werneburg for organising the symposium, Casey Holliday, Matt Friedman, Alice Clement, and Kyle Armstrong for discussion, and Hendrik Müller and Juan Daza for constructive comments during peer review. We thank the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) who provided funding for this research (BB/H011854/1; BB/H011668/1; BB/H011390/1; BB/M010287/1; BB/M008525/1; BB/M008061/1) and a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award DE130101567 (Australian Research Council) which supported MEHJ.


  • Biomechanics
  • cartilage
  • chondrocranium
  • finite element analysis
  • Salvator meriannae
  • skull


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