The appearance of a forefoot push-off mechanism in the hominin lineage has been difficult to identify, partially because researchers disagree over the use of the external skeletal morphology to differentiate metatarsophalangeal joint functional differences in extant great apes and humans. In this study, we approach the problem by quantifying properties of internal bone architecture that may reflect different loading patterns in metatarsophalangeal joints in humans and great apes. High-resolution x-ray computed tomography data were collected for first and second metatarsal heads of Homo sapiens (n = 26), Pan paniscus (n = 17), Pan troglodytes (n = 19), Gorilla gorilla (n = 16), and Pongo pygmaeus (n = 20). Trabecular bone fabric structure was analyzed in three regions of each metatarsal head. While bone volume fraction did not significantly differentiate human and great ape trabecular bone structure, human metatarsal heads generally show significantly more anisotropic trabecular bone architectures, especially in the dorsal regions compared to the corresponding areas of the great ape metatarsal heads. The differences in anisotropy between humans and great apes support the hypothesis that trabecular architecture in the dorsal regions of the human metatarsals are indicative of a forefoot habitually used for propulsion during gait. This study provides a potential route for predicting forefoot function and gait in fossil hominins from metatarsal head trabecular bone architecture.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics