Morphological Covariation between the Maxillary Sinus and Midfacial Skeleton among Sub-Saharan and Circumpolar Modern Humans

Lauren N. Butaric, Scott D. Maddux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Objectives: Maxillary sinus volume tracks ecogeographic differences in nasal form and may serve as a zone of accommodation for ontogenetic and evolutionary changes in nasal cavity breadth. However, little is known regarding how sinus volume is distributed within the midface. This study investigates morphological covariation between midfacial and sinus shape to better understand structural and functional relationships between the sinus, midface, and nasal cavity. Methods: Cranial and sinus models were rendered from CT scans of modern human samples from two disparate climates: sub-Saharan (South Africans [n = 15], West Africans [n = 17]), and circumpolar (Siberian Buriats [n = 18], Alaskan Inuit [n = 20]). Twenty-five 3D coordinate landmarks were placed on the models and subjected to generalized Procrustes analysis. Two-block partial least squares (2B-PLS) analysis was employed to identify patterns of covariation. Results: The 2B-PLS analysis indicates PLS1 (58.6% total covariation) relates to height and breadth relationships between the midface, nasal cavity, and maxillary sinus. Significant regional differences in PLS1 scores are evident: circumpolar samples possess taller/narrower noses with taller/wider sinuses compared to sub-Saharan samples. Importantly, PLS1 indicates that sinus breadth is not exclusively related to nasal cavity breadth; variation in lateral sinus expansion toward the zygoma represents an important contributing factor. PLS2 (16%) relates to supero-inferior positioning of the sinus within the midface. Allometric trends, while statistically significant, explain only a small portion of these covariation patterns. Conclusions: These results suggest that the maxillary sinus serves as a zone of accommodation at the confluence of multiple facial components, potentially minimizing effects of morphological alterations to certain components on adjacent structures. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:483–497, 2016.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-497
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • allometry
  • modularity
  • nasal cavity
  • partial least squares analysis
  • pneumatization


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