Matthew J. Ravosa
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Office: 221 Galvin Life Science Center
Over the past two decades, my integrative research program has investigated major adaptive and structural transformations in mammalian musculoskeletal form during ontogeny and across higher-level clades. With an eye to both the evolutionary and translational implications, our lab has investigated the plasticity, mechanobiology, ecomorphology, aging and performance of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system. Work on development, biomechanics and evolution has marshaled diverse and non-traditional sources of evidence to address outstanding issues concerning the complex underpinnings of patterns of phenotypic variation. We have employed of a broad range of modern cell biological, molecular, engineering and imaging techniques (microCT, immunostaining, histomorphometry, tissue properties testing, microarray, tissue culture, PCR), typically via recourse to unique experimental and transgenic animal models.
We have developed a rabbit model of long-term dietary plasticity in cranial hard- and soft-tissues, which is being coupled with data on load-induced changes in gene expression patterns of jaw-joint cartilage. This evidence is being integrated with in vivo data regarding the relationship between food mechanical properties and masticatory behavior. Such research contributes to an ongoing debate regarding the ecomorphological significance of dietary seasonal variability in craniofacial evolution among fossil and living organisms. Histomorphometric analyses have been applied to the developing proximal humerus and femur in growing mini-pigs. These first-ever long-term studies have applied a more naturalistic and integrative perspective to the function, plasticity and performance of multiple cranial and limb joints.
Our lab is also developing the first mouse model of craniomandibular osteoblast differentiation, which has important implications for understanding bone formation during prenatal development, skull dysmorphologies and the evolution of the remarkably large brain in humans. These ex vivo analyses of the mechanobiology of cranial osteoblasts aim to evaluate the role(s) of embryological precursor origin, ossification mode and loading environment on hard-tissue formation. Ongoing macroscale tests of the properties and biomechanics of an ossified mandibular symphysis, a jaw-joint feature characteristic of modern anthropoid primates, has capitalized on various analytical and technical methods common to engineering. Investigation of the dynamic links among skeletal safety factors, masticatory stresses, and cortical bone formation has highlighted fundamental similarities and differences in loading patterns between vertebrate skulls and limbs. From a clinical and bioengineering standpoint, such information is important for characterizing strain-mediated responses necessary for mimicking the natural growth activity of connective tissues. Finally, we are developing a rabbit model of osteonecrosis of the jaw, a debilitating oral disease associated with long-term bisphosphonate therapy used in treating bone metastases and osteoporosis in a human clinical context.
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