The morphogenesis of wormian bones: a study of craniosynostosis and purposeful cranial deformation.
Wormian bones are accessory bones that occur within cranial suture and fontanelles, most commonly within the posterior sutures. They occur more frequently in disorders that have reduced cranial ossification, hypotonia or decreased movement, thereby resulting in deformational brachycephaly. The frequency and location of wormian bones varies with the type and severity of cranial deformation practiced by ancient cultures. We considered the hypothesis that the pathogenesis of wormian bones may be due to environmental variations in dural strain within open sutures and fontanelles. In order to explore this further, we measured the cephalic index (CI) in 20 purposefully deformed pre-Columbian skulls: 10 from Chichen Itza, Mexico, and 10 from Ancon, Peru, as well as 20 anatomically normal skulls used for medical school anatomy classes. We tested for a direct correlation between the CI and the number of wormian bones in skulls with varying degrees of brachycephalic cranial deformation and found no significant correlation. When the CI was grouped into three categories (normal (CI < 81), brachycephalic (CI 81-93), and severely brachycephalic (CI > 93)) there was a trend toward increasing number of wormian bones as the skull became more brachycephalic (P = 0.039). A second part or our study tabulated the frequency and location of large wormian bones (greater than 1 cm) in 3-dimentional computerized tomography (3D-CT) scans from 207 cases of craniosynostosis and compared these data with published data on 485 normal dry skulls from a manuscript on wormian bones by Parker in 1905. Among cases of craniosynostosis, large wormian bones were significantly more frequent (117 out of 207 3D-CT scans) than in dry skulls (131 out of 485). There was a 3.5 greater odds of developing a wormian bone with premature suture closure (P < 0.001). Midline synostosis, specifically metopic or sagittal synostosis, has more wormian bones in the midline, whereas unilateral lambdoidal or coronal synostosis more often had wormian bones on the contralateral side. Taken together, these data suggest that wormian bones may arise as a consequence of mechanical factors that spread sutures apart and affect dural strain within sutures and fontanelles.