Building finite element models to investigate zebrafish jaw biomechanics

Lucy H. Brunt, Karen A. Roddy, Emily J. Rayfield, Chrissy L. Hammond*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
283 Downloads (Pure)


Skeletal morphogenesis occurs through tightly regulated cell behaviors during development; many cell types alter their behavior in response to mechanical strain. Skeletal joints are subjected to dynamic mechanical loading. Finite element analysis (FEA) is a computational method, frequently used in engineering that can predict how a material or structure will respond to mechanical input. By dividing a whole system (in this case the zebrafish jaw skeleton) into a mesh of smaller 'finite elements', FEA can be used to calculate the mechanical response of the structure to external loads. The results can be visualized in many ways including as a 'heat map' showing the position of maximum and minimum principal strains (a positive principal strain indicates tension while a negative indicates compression. The maximum and minimum refer the largest and smallest strain). These can be used to identify which regions of the jaw and therefore which cells are likely to be under particularly high tensional or compressional loads during jaw movement and can therefore be used to identify relationships between mechanical strain and cell behavior. This protocol describes the steps to generate Finite Element models from confocal image data on the musculoskeletal system, using the zebrafish lower jaw as a practical example. The protocol leads the reader through a series of steps: 1) staining of the musculoskeletal components, 2) imaging the musculoskeletal components, 3) building a 3 dimensional (3D) surface, 4) generating a mesh of Finite Elements, 5) solving the FEA and finally 6) validating the results by comparison to real displacements seen in movements of the fish jaw.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere54811
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number118
Early online date3 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2016


  • Biomechanics
  • Confocal
  • Developmental biology
  • Finite element
  • Issue 118
  • Joint morphogenesis
  • Morphology
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Strain
  • Zebrafish


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