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