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Concept: Skull


Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder of unknown aetiology. It is suggested to involve both genetic susceptibility and environmental factors including in the latter environmental toxins. Human exposure to the environmental toxin aluminium has been linked, if tentatively, to autism spectrum disorder. Herein we have used transversely heated graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry to measure, for the first time, the aluminium content of brain tissue from donors with a diagnosis of autism. We have also used an aluminium-selective fluor to identify aluminium in brain tissue using fluorescence microscopy. The aluminium content of brain tissue in autism was consistently high. The mean (standard deviation) aluminium content across all 5 individuals for each lobe were 3.82(5.42), 2.30(2.00), 2.79(4.05) and 3.82(5.17) μg/g dry wt. for the occipital, frontal, temporal and parietal lobes respectively. These are some of the highest values for aluminium in human brain tissue yet recorded and one has to question why, for example, the aluminium content of the occipital lobe of a 15year old boy would be 8.74 (11.59) μg/g dry wt.? Aluminium-selective fluorescence microscopy was used to identify aluminium in brain tissue in 10 donors. While aluminium was imaged associated with neurones it appeared to be present intracellularly in microglia-like cells and other inflammatory non-neuronal cells in the meninges, vasculature, grey and white matter. The pre-eminence of intracellular aluminium associated with non-neuronal cells was a standout observation in autism brain tissue and may offer clues as to both the origin of the brain aluminium as well as a putative role in autism spectrum disorder.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Brain, Human brain, Cerebrum, Skull, Autism, Frontal lobe


Evidence of interpersonal violence has been documented previously in Pleistocene members of the genus Homo, but only very rarely has this been posited as the possible manner of death. Here we report the earliest evidence of lethal interpersonal violence in the hominin fossil record. Cranium 17 recovered from the Sima de los Huesos Middle Pleistocene site shows two clear perimortem depression fractures on the frontal bone, interpreted as being produced by two episodes of localized blunt force trauma. The type of injuries, their location, the strong similarity of the fractures in shape and size, and the different orientations and implied trajectories of the two fractures suggest they were produced with the same object in face-to-face interpersonal conflict. Given that either of the two traumatic events was likely lethal, the presence of multiple blows implies an intention to kill. This finding shows that the lethal interpersonal violence is an ancient human behavior and has important implications for the accumulation of bodies at the site, supporting an anthropic origin.

Concepts: Psychology, Bone, Human, Skull, Human behavior, Terrorism, Human evolution, Hominina


Palaeomerycids were strange three-horned Eurasian Miocene ruminants known through fossils from Spain to China. We here study their systematics, offering the first cladistic phylogeny of the best-known species of the group, and also reassess their phylogenetic position among ruminants, which is currently disputed. The beautifully preserved remains of a new palaeomerycid from middle Miocene deposits of Spain, Xenokeryx amidalae gen. et sp. nov., helps us to better understand palaeomerycid anatomy, especially that of the nuchal region in the skull, significantly improving our current knowledge on these enigmatic ruminants. Our results show two main lineages of palaeomerycids, one containing the genus Ampelomeryx diagnosed by a characteristic type of cranium / cranial appendages and some dental derived traits, and another one that clusters those forms more closely related to Triceromeryx than to Ampelomeryx, characterized by a more derived dentition and a set of apomorphic cranial features. Xenokeryx branches as a basal offshoot of this clade. Also, we find that Eurasian palaeomerycids are not closely related to North American dromomerycids, thus rejecting the currently more accepted view of palaeomerycids as the Eurasian part of the dromomerycid lineage. Instead of this, palaeomerycids are nested with the African Miocene pecoran Propalaeoryx and with giraffoids. On the other hand, dromomerycids are closely related to cervids. We define a clade Giraffomorpha that includes palaeomerycids and giraffids, and propose an emended diagnosis of the Palaeomerycidae based on cranial and postcranial characters, including several features of the cranium not described so far. We also define the Palaeomerycidae as the least inclusive clade of pecorans containing Triceromeryx and Ampelomeryx. Finally, we reassess the taxonomy of several palaeomerycid taxa.

Concepts: Taxonomy, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Skull, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Clade, Phylogenetic comparative methods, Palaeomerycidae


Oviraptorosaurs are a bizarre group of bird-like theropod dinosaurs, the derived forms of which have shortened, toothless skulls, and which diverged from close relatives by developing peculiar feeding adaptations. Although once among the most mysterious of dinosaurs, oviraptorosaurs are becoming better understood with the discovery of many new fossils in Asia and North America. The Ganzhou area of southern China is emerging as a hotspot of oviraptorosaur discoveries, as over the past half decade five new monotypic genera have been found in the latest Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) deposits of this region. We here report a sixth diagnostic oviraptorosaur from Ganzhou, Tongtianlong limosus gen. et sp. nov., represented by a remarkably well-preserved specimen in an unusual splayed-limb and raised-head posture. Tongtianlong is a derived oviraptorid oviraptorosaur, differentiated from other species by its unique dome-like skull roof, highly convex premaxilla, and other features of the skull. The large number of oviraptorosaurs from Ganzhou, which often differ in cranial morphologies related to feeding, document an evolutionary radiation of these dinosaurs during the very latest Cretaceous of Asia, which helped establish one of the last diverse dinosaur faunas before the end-Cretaceous extinction.

Concepts: Skull, Cretaceous, Dinosaur, Saurischia, Theropoda, Maniraptora, Oviraptorosauria, Oviraptoridae


Historical approaches to protect the brain from outside the skull (eg, helmets and mouthpieces) have been ineffective in reducing internal injury to the brain that arises from energy absorption during sports-related collisions. We aimed to evaluate the effects of a neck collar, which applies gentle bilateral jugular vein compression, resulting in cerebral venous engorgement to reduce head impact energy absorption during collision. Specifically, we investigated the effect of collar wearing during head impact exposure on brain microstructure integrity following a competitive high school American football season.

Concepts: Brain, Skull, Internal jugular vein, High school football, Collision


Before their disappearance from the fossil record approximately 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals, the ancient hominin lineage most closely related to modern humans, interbred with ancestors of present-day humans. The legacy of this gene flow persists through Neanderthal-derived variants that survive in modern human DNA; however, the neural implications of this inheritance are uncertain. Here, using MRI in a large cohort of healthy individuals of European-descent, we show that the amount of Neanderthal-originating polymorphism carried in living humans is related to cranial and brain morphology. First, as a validation of our approach, we demonstrate that a greater load of Neanderthal-derived genetic variants (higher “NeanderScore”) is associated with skull shapes resembling those of known Neanderthal cranial remains, particularly in occipital and parietal bones. Next, we demonstrate convergent NeanderScore-related findings in the brain (measured by gray- and white-matter volume, sulcal depth, and gyrification index) that localize to the visual cortex and intraparietal sulcus. This work provides insights into ancestral human neurobiology and suggests that Neanderthal-derived genetic variation is neurologically functional in the contemporary population.

Concepts: Nervous system, DNA, Brain, Human, Cerebrum, Skull, Neanderthal, Occipital bone


Studies of biological shape evolution are greatly enhanced when framed in a phylogenetic perspective. Inclusion of fossils amplifies the scope of macroevolutionary research, offers a deep-time perspective on tempo and mode of radiations, and elucidates life-trait changes. We explore the evolution of skull shape in felids (cats) through morphometric analyses of linear variables, phylogenetic comparative methods, and a new cladistic study of saber-toothed cats.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Ecology, Skull, Phylogenetics, Cat, Phylogenetic comparative methods, Paleontology


We describe Sarmientosaurus musacchioi gen. et sp. nov., a titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian-Turonian) Lower Member of the Bajo Barreal Formation of southern Chubut Province in central Patagonia, Argentina. The holotypic and only known specimen consists of an articulated, virtually complete skull and part of the cranial and middle cervical series. Sarmientosaurus exhibits the following distinctive features that we interpret as autapomorphies: (1) maximum diameter of orbit nearly 40% rostrocaudal length of cranium; (2) complex maxilla-lacrimal articulation, in which the lacrimal clasps the ascending ramus of the maxilla; (3) medial edge of caudal sector of maxillary ascending ramus bordering bony nasal aperture with low but distinct ridge; (4) ‘tongue-like’ ventral process of quadratojugal that overlaps quadrate caudally; (5) separate foramina for all three branches of the trigeminal nerve; (6) absence of median venous canal connecting infundibular region to ventral part of brainstem; (7) subvertical premaxillary, procumbent maxillary, and recumbent dentary teeth; (8) cervical vertebrae with ‘strut-like’ centroprezygapophyseal laminae; (9) extremely elongate and slender ossified tendon positioned ventrolateral to cervical vertebrae and ribs. The cranial endocast of Sarmientosaurus preserves some of the most complete information obtained to date regarding the brain and sensory systems of sauropods. Phylogenetic analysis recovers the new taxon as a basal member of Lithostrotia, as the most plesiomorphic titanosaurian to be preserved with a complete skull. Sarmientosaurus provides a wealth of new cranial evidence that reaffirms the close relationship of titanosaurs to Brachiosauridae. Moreover, the presence of the relatively derived lithostrotian Tapuiasaurus in Aptian deposits indicates that the new Patagonian genus represents a ‘ghost lineage’ with a comparatively plesiomorphic craniodental form, the evolutionary history of which is missing for at least 13 million years of the Cretaceous. The skull anatomy of Sarmientosaurus suggests that multiple titanosaurian species with dissimilar cranial structures coexisted in the early Late Cretaceous of southern South America. Furthermore, the new taxon possesses a number of distinctive morphologies-such as the ossified cervical tendon, extremely pneumatized cervical vertebrae, and a habitually downward-facing snout-that have rarely, if ever, been documented in other titanosaurs, thus broadening our understanding of the anatomical diversity of this remarkable sauropod clade. The latter two features were convergently acquired by at least one penecontemporaneous diplodocoid, and may represent mutual specializations for consuming low-growing vegetation.

Concepts: Skull, Cranial nerves, Cretaceous, Patagonia, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Titanosaur, Maxillary nerve


The lambeosaurine Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus has traditionally been reconstructed with an elevated, hollow, spike-like crest composed entirely of the nasal bones, although this has been disputed. Here, we provide a new reconstruction of the skull of this species based on reexamination and reinterpretation of the morphology and articular relationships of the type and Paratype skulls and a fragmentary crest. We confirm the presence of a supracranial crest composed of the elevated nasal bones, but also including the premaxillae. We hypothesize that the crest is a tall, lobate, hollow structure that projects dorsally and slightly caudally a distance greater than the height of the skull along the quadrate. In our reconstruction, the nasal passage passes through the crest, but enters the skull rostral to the tubular process of the nasals, not through it. Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus is rediagnosed on the basis of a suite of cranial autapomorphies including a circumnarial fossa subdivided into three accessory fossae, prefrontal with ascending rostral process and lateral flange, nasals fused sagittally to form elongate tubular process that rises dorsally from skull roof, each nasal being expanded rostrocaudally into a rhomboid distal process, and medial processes of premaxillae at the summit of the cranial crest inserted between rhomboid processes of nasals. Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus lacks characters that are present in more derived lambeosaurines (parasaurolophins and lambeosaurins), such as rotation of the caudal margin of the crest to an acute angle with the skull roof, lateral processes of the nasals that enclose part of the intracranial cavity and participate in the formation of the walls of the common median chamber, and a smooth narial fossa lacking ridges and accessory fossae. We hypothesize that ancestrally the rostrum of lambeosaurines may have been more similar to that in Saurolophinae, and became subsequently reduced in complexity during evolution of the group.

Concepts: Snake scales, Skull, Anatomy, Anatomical terms of location, Occipital bone, Animal anatomy, Skull and Bones, Vomer


Fluorescence is widespread in marine organisms but uncommon in terrestrial tetrapods. We here show that many chameleon species have bony tubercles protruding from the skull that are visible through their scales, and fluoresce under UV light. Tubercles arising from bones of the skull displace all dermal layers other than a thin, transparent layer of epidermis, creating a ‘window’ onto the bone. In the genus Calumma, the number of these tubercles is sexually dimorphic in most species, suggesting a signalling role, and also strongly reflects species groups, indicating systematic value of these features. Co-option of the known fluorescent properties of bone has never before been shown, yet it is widespread in the chameleons of Madagascar and some African chameleon genera, particularly in those genera living in forested, humid habitats known to have a higher relative component of ambient UV light. The fluorescence emits with a maximum at around 430 nm in blue colour which contrasts well to the green and brown background reflectance of forest habitats. This discovery opens new avenues in the study of signalling among chameleons and sexual selection factors driving ornamentation.

Concepts: Fluorescence, Ultraviolet, Organism, Species, Skull, Fluorescent lamp, Genus, Chameleon