Carotid foramen size in the human skull tracks developmental changes in cerebral blood flow and brain metabolism

Arianna R. Harrington*, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Doug M. Boyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: In humans, neuronal processes related to brain development elevate the metabolic rate of brain tissue relative to the body during early childhood. This phenomenon has been hypothesized to contribute to slow somatic growth in preadolescent Homo sapiens. The uncoupling of the brain's metabolic rate from brain size during development complicates the study of the evolutionary emergence of these traits in the fossil record. Here, we extend a method previously developed to predict interspecific differences in cerebral blood flow (a correlate of cerebral glucose use) to predict ontogenetic changes in human brain metabolism. Materials and methods: Radii of the carotid foramen from an ontogenetic series of modern human crania were used to predict blood flow rates through the internal carotid arteries (ICA), which were compared to empirically measured ICA flow and brain metabolism values. Results: Predictions of both absolute ICA blood flow rates and perfusion (ICA blood flow rates relative to brain size) generally match measured values in infancy and childhood. Maximum predicted ICA blood flow rates and perfusion were found to occur between ages 5 and 8, which roughly correspond to the age of maximum measured ICA blood flow rate and absolute and brain mass-specific rate of whole brain glucose uptake. Discussion: These findings suggest that, during human growth and development, the size of the carotid foramen corresponds well to blood flow requirements through the ICA, and the method tested here may provide new opportunities for studying developmental changes in brain metabolism using osteological samples, including fossil hominins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-169
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2019


  • blood flow rate
  • carotid foramen
  • energetics
  • human life history evolution
  • internal carotid artery
  • perfusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Anatomy


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