By Sheryll Poe | July 20, 2022
Anthony Pagano and Samuel Márquez have a lot in common. They’re both Latino, first-generation Americans and native New Yorkers. They’re both the product of the City University of New York (or CUNY) system. They are also former students of AAA Past President Jeffrey Laitman, Distinguished Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine.
“This is how we initially met, both drawn to the Laitman lab through a shared interest in the evolution and morphology of the upper respiratory tract,” Pagano and Márquez explained. “Over time, we continued to work on several papers and many AAA poster presentations, discovering that we had a similar work ethic—and a love of draft beer.”
Now, the two bioanthropologists and comparative anatomists are taking on their latest joint project as Guest Editors of the August issue of the Anatomical Record—a Special Issue on the nasopharynx.
The Neglected Nasopharynx
With their similar research focus and shared interests, it makes sense that Márquez, a professor of Cell Biology at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University (Brooklyn, New York) and Pagano, an assistant professor of Medical Sciences at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine (Nutley, New Jersey) should be Guest Editors of a special issue on the nasopharynx.
Initially, Pagano’s research interest was on basicranial flexion but his attention shifted toward the space lying immediately below it, the nasopharynx when he “realized that precious little has been written about the nasopharynx despite its being bounded by some of the best-studied cranial regions, including the nasal cavity, basicranium, oral cavity and middle ear.”
Over the course of their research partnership, Pagano and Márquez have had some surprising findings, including that “Neanderthals exhibited derived nasopharyngeal morphology that included horizontal orientation of the choanae and cartilaginous Eustachian tube similar to human infants. This condition distinguished them from adult modern humans and earlier humans species from the Pleistocene, suggesting that Neanderthals developed their nasopharyngeal morphology in isolation,” they said.
Pagano and Márquez also discovered a new morphological trait found exclusively in Neanderthals—a bony projection which anchored the largest of the soft palate muscles, levator veli palatini. The authors named the trait “the levator process.” “I was extremely surprised that a new morphological trait could be described on the external cranium of Neanderthals after nearly a century and a half of study,” Pagano said. “But then, the nasopharynx always was a relatively neglected area.”
A ‘Small But Vital Region’ Gets Its Own Issue
With the publication of the Anatomical Record special issue, the naxopharynx will be neglected not longer. The two Guest Editors took a methodical approach to deciding which types of manuscript contributions would be appropriate for the issue, agreeing that a strong evolutionary framework was needed to introduce the nasopharynx, followed by more granular studies of its function and development. Pagano and Márquez’s own article in the issue on the 5,000-year history of study of the “small but vital. certainly provides the introduction to the nasopharynx.
Pagano and Márquez said they also understood that, lying at the center of many important structures, a special issue on the nasopharynx could subsume neighboring regions such as the cervical vertebrae, nasal cavity and middle ear. The two agreed to include a broad range of study topics, all contributing in their own ways to understanding the nasopharynx.
“What resulted was an unexpectedly diverse but congruous collection of studies that all complemented each other to create a body work that finally showcased the nasopharynx as its evolutionary and clinical importance warrants,” Pagano and Márquez noted.
Since much of their work has first appeared at AAA’s annual meetings and in the pages of The Anatomical Record, it’s no surprise that they recommend that all anatomists, both students and seasoned professionals, take advantage of all that the association and its flagship journal have to offer.
“The Anatomical Record’s editor-in-chief and editorial board represent some of the highest-level scholars in the field of anatomical sciences. They work closely with potential contributors to foster an environment of support in which ‘good’ and ‘ethical’ research can be elevated to the standard of excellence for which this journal is recognized internationally,” they said.