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Occipital foramina development involves localised regulation of mesenchyme proliferation and is independent of apoptosis

Akbareian, S E; Pitsillides, A A; Macharia, R G; McGonnell, I M


S E Akbareian

A A Pitsillides

R G Macharia

I M McGonnell


Cranial foramina are holes within the skull, formed during development, allowing entry and exit of blood vessels and nerves. Once formed they must remain open, due to the vital structures they contain, i.e. optic nerves, jugular vein, carotid artery, and other cranial nerves and blood vessels. Understanding cranial foramina development is essential as cranial malformations lead to the stenosis or complete closure of these structures, resulting in blindness, deafness, facial paralysis, raised intracranial pressure and lethality. Here we focus on describing early events in the formation of the jugular, carotid and hypoglossal cranial foramina that form in the mesoderm‐derived, endochondral occipital bones at the base of the embryonic chick skull. Whole‐mount skeletal staining of skulls indicates the appearance of these foramina from HH32/D7.5 onwards. Haematoxylin & eosin staining of sections shows that the intimately associated mesenchyme, neighbouring the contents of these cranial foramina, is initially very dense and gradually becomes sparser as development proceeds. Histological examination also revealed that these foramina initially contain relatively large‐diameter nerves, which later become refined, and are closely associated with the blood vessel, which they also innervate within the confines of the foramina. Interestingly cranial foramina in the base of the skull contain blood vessels lacking smooth muscle actin, which suggests these blood vessels belong to glomus body structures within the foramina. The blood vessel shape also appears to dictate the overall shape of the resulting foramina. We initially hypothesised that cranial foramina development could involve targeted proliferation and local apoptosis to cause ‘mesenchymal clearing’ and the creation of cavities in a mechanism similar to joint cavitation. We find that this is not the case, and propose that a mechanism reliant upon local nerve/blood vessel‐derived restriction of ossification may contribute to foramina formation during cranial development.


Akbareian, S. E., Pitsillides, A. A., Macharia, R. G., & McGonnell, I. M. (2015). Occipital foramina development involves localised regulation of mesenchyme proliferation and is independent of apoptosis. Journal of Anatomy, 226(6), 560-574.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 2, 2015
Publication Date May 21, 2015
Deposit Date May 29, 2015
Print ISSN 0021-8782
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 226
Issue 6
Pages 560-574
Public URL