Differential Growth and Development of the Upper and Lower Human Thorax

Markus Bastir, Daniel García Martínez, Wolfgang Recheis, Alon Barash, Michael Coquerelle, Luis Rios, Ángel Peña-Melián, Francisco García Río, Paul O'Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The difficulties in quantifying the 3D form and spatial relationships of the skeletal components of the ribcage present a barrier to studies of the growth of the thoracic skeleton. Thus, most studies to date have relied on traditional measurements such as distances and indices from single or few ribs. It is currently known that adult-like thoracic shape is achieved early, by the end of the second postnatal year, with the circular cross-section of the newborn thorax transforming into the ovoid shape of adults; and that the ribs become inclined such that their anterior borders come to lie inferior to their posterior. Here we present a study that revisits growth changes using geometric morphometrics applied to extensive landmark data taken from the ribcage. We digitized 402 (semi) landmarks on 3D reconstructions to assess growth changes in 27 computed tomography-scanned modern humans representing newborns to adults of both sexes. Our analyses show a curved ontogenetic trajectory, resulting from different ontogenetic growth allometries of upper and lower thoracic units. Adult thoracic morphology is achieved later than predicted, by diverse modifications in different anatomical regions during different ontogenetic stages. Besides a marked increase in antero-posterior dimensions, there is an increase in medio-lateral dimensions of the upper thorax, relative to the lower thorax. This transforms the pyramidal infant thorax into the barrel-shaped one of adults. Rib descent is produced by complex changes in 3D curvature. Developmental differences between upper and lower thoracic regions relate to differential timings and rates of maturation of the respiratory and digestive systems, the spine and the locomotor system. Our findings are relevant to understanding how changes in the relative rates of growth of these systems and structures impacted on the development and evolution of modern human body shape.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere75128
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
StatePublished - 20 Sep 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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