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In Vivo 3D Analysis of Thoracic Kinematics: Changes in Size and Shape During Breathing and Their Implications for Respiratory Function in Recent Humans and Fossil Hominins

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  • Markus Bastir
  • Daniel García-Martínez
  • Nicole Torres-Tamayo
  • Juan Alberto Sanchis-Gimeno
  • Paul O'Higgins
  • Cristina Utrilla
  • Isabel Torres Sánchez
  • Francisco García Río


Publication details

JournalAnatomical Record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology
DateAccepted/In press - 19 Oct 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 8 Nov 2016
DatePublished (current) - 1 Feb 2017
Issue number2
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)255-264
Early online date8/11/16
Original languageEnglish


The human ribcage expands and contracts during respiration as a result of the interaction between the morphology of the ribs, the costo-vertebral articulations and respiratory muscles. Variations in these factors are said to produce differences in the kinematics of the upper thorax and the lower thorax, but the extent and nature of any such differences and their functional implications have not yet been quantified. Applying geometric morphometrics we measured 402 three-dimensional (3D) landmarks and semilandmarks of 3D models built from computed tomographic scans of thoraces of 20 healthy adult subjects in maximal forced inspiration (FI) and expiration (FE). We addressed the hypothesis that upper and lower parts of the ribcage differ in kinematics and compared different models of functional compartmentalization. During inspiration the thorax superior to the level of the sixth ribs undergoes antero-posterior expansion that differs significantly from the medio-lateral expansion characteristic of the thorax below this level. This supports previous suggestions for dividing the thorax into a pulmonary and diaphragmatic part. While both compartments differed significantly in mean size and shape during FE and FI the size changes in the lower compartment were significantly larger. Additionally, for the same degree of kinematic shape change, the pulmonary thorax changes less in size than the diaphragmatic thorax. Therefore, variations in the form and function of the diaphragmatic thorax will have a strong impact on respiratory function. This has important implications for interpreting differences in thorax shape in terms of respiratory functional differences within and among recent humans and fossil hominins. Anat Rec, 300:255–264, 2017.

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    Research areas

  • breathing, kinematics, rib cage, thorax

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