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Crossed Skull Bones

Understanding how the skull's sutures – the expandable joints between the bony plates – form and are maintained

31 August 2021

Crossed Skull Bones

Your skull is formed not of one single smooth bone, but 22 tessellating plates like a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Where they intersect, sections are joined by sutures which allow the skull to expand as a baby grows. When children are born with craniosynostosis or other birth defects, these sutures are absent and repeated invasive operations are needed to allow skull expansion. To understand why slight genetic irregularities cause such significant problems, researchers painstakingly analysed a growing mouse suture cell by cell to generate an atlas of development. They found 14 types of cell involved, and identified new genes linked to producing stem cells (starter cells, green in the suture pictured soon after birth) between the two bones (purple). Mice with craniosynostosis also showed unusually symmetrical distribution of these stem cells, which mismanaged the bone alignment. Revealing these developmental details may lead to less invasive, or even preventative, treatments.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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