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Three-dimensional analysis of sexual dimorphism in ribcage kinematics of modern humans

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  • Daniel García-Martínez
  • Markus Bastir
  • Nicole Torres-Tamayo
  • Paul O'Higgins
  • Isabel Torres-Sánchez
  • Francisco García-Río
  • Yann Heuzé


Publication details

JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
DateAccepted/In press - 17 Mar 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 1 Apr 2019
Early online date1/04/19
Original languageEnglish


Objectives: Sexual dimorphism is an important biological factor underlying morphological variation in the human skeleton. Previous research found sex-related differences in the static ribcage, with males having more horizontally oriented ribs and a wider lower ribcage than females. Furthermore, a recent study found sex-related differences in the kinematics of the human lungs, with cranio-caudal movements of the caudal part of the lungs accounting for most of the differences between sexes. However, these movements cannot be quantified in the skeletal ribcage, so we do not know if the differences observed in the lungs are also reflected in sex differences in the motion of the skeletal thorax. Materials and methods: To address this issue, we quantified the morphological variation of 42 contemporary human ribcages (sex-balanced) in both maximal inspiration and expiration using 526 landmarks and semilandmarks. Thoracic centroid size differences between sexes were assessed using a t test, and shape differences were assessed using Procrustes shape coordinates, through mean comparisons and dummy regressions of shape on kinematic status. A principal components analysis was used to explore the full range of morphological variation. Results: Our results show significant size differences between males and females both in inspiration and expiration (p <.01) as well as significant shape differences, with males deforming more than females during inspiration, especially in the mediolateral dimension of the lower ribcage. Finally, dummy regressions of shape on kinematic status showed a small but statistically significant difference in vectors of breathing kinematics between males and females (14.78°; p <.01). Discussion: We support that sex-related differences in skeletal ribcage kinematics are discernible, even when soft tissues are not analyzed. We hypothesize that this differential breathing pattern is primarily a result of more pronounced diaphragmatic breathing in males, which might relate to differences in body composition, metabolism, and ultimately greater oxygen demand in males compared to females. Future research should further explore the links between ribcage morphological variation and basal metabolic rate.

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    Research areas

  • geometric morphometrics, kinematics, ribcage, sexual dimorphism

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