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1.  A Neural Circuit Covarying with Social Hierarchy in Macaques 
PLoS Biology  2014;12(9):e1001940.
A neural circuit that covaries with social hierarchy A neuroimaging study reveals that individual variation in brain circuits in structures below the cerebral cortex of macaques is associated with experience at different ends of the social hierarchy.
Despite widespread interest in social dominance, little is known of its neural correlates in primates. We hypothesized that social status in primates might be related to individual variation in subcortical brain regions implicated in other aspects of social and emotional behavior in other mammals. To examine this possibility we used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which affords the taking of quantitative measurements noninvasively, both of brain structure and of brain function, across many regions simultaneously. We carried out a series of tests of structural and functional MRI (fMRI) data in 25 group-living macaques. First, a deformation-based morphometric (DBM) approach was used to show that gray matter in the amygdala, brainstem in the vicinity of the raphe nucleus, and reticular formation, hypothalamus, and septum/striatum of the left hemisphere was correlated with social status. Second, similar correlations were found in the same areas in the other hemisphere. Third, similar correlations were found in a second data set acquired several months later from a subset of the same animals. Fourth, the strength of coupling between fMRI-measured activity in the same areas was correlated with social status. The network of subcortical areas, however, had no relationship with the sizes of individuals' social networks, suggesting the areas had a simple and direct relationship with social status. By contrast a second circuit in cortex, comprising the midsuperior temporal sulcus and anterior and dorsal prefrontal cortex, covaried with both individuals' social statuses and the social network sizes they experienced. This cortical circuit may be linked to the social cognitive processes that are taxed by life in more complex social networks and that must also be used if an animal is to achieve a high social status.
Author Summary
Social status is an important feature of group life in many primates. Position in the dominance hierarchy influences access to food and mates and is correlated with both general and mental health. Discovering how the brain is organized with respect to individual social status is an important first step for understanding the neural mechanisms that might drive social status and mediate its consequences. We performed a neuroimaging study in non-human primates and our findings suggest that brain organization reflects at least two aspects of dominance. First, we identified neural circuits in brain regions that appear to have a relatively simple and direct relationship with social status—one circuit in which gray matter volume tended to be greater in socially dominant individuals and another in which gray matter volume was greater in those with a more subordinate social position. We also showed that the degree of connectivity within each circuit was associated with experiences at each end of the social hierarchy. Second, given that social status in male macaques depends not only on successful engagement in agonistic behavior but also on success in forming social bonds that promote coalitions, we explored regions where gray matter relates to both social status and social network size. This second neural circuit may mediate the way in which dominance is dependent on social bond formation, which is in turn dependent on social cognition.
PMCID: PMC4151964  PMID: 25180883
2.  Dolphin insula reflects minicolumnar organization of mammalian isocortex 
Translational neuroscience  2010;1(1):37-42.
The brain of the bottlenose dolphin exhibits patterns of isocortical parcellation and cytoarchitecture distinct from those seen in primates, yet cell clusters in anterior insula are comparable in scale to module-like cell arrangements found throughout isocortex in other placental mammalian species with long divergent evolutionary histories. This similarity may be due to common ancestry, or to convergence as a result of selective constraints on organization of connections within such modules. Differences reflect alternate arrangements of minicolumns, an elemental cytoarchitectonic motif of isocortex defined by radially oriented pyramidal cell arrays. In contrast with larger modular structures incorporating them, minicolumns have been highly conserved in mammalian evolution. In this study a previously validated imaging method was employed to assess verticality, D, a parameter indicating radial bias of isocortex. Photomicrographs of coronal Nissl-stained sections of dolphin anterior insular cortex were compared with sections from human brains of putatively homologous areas as well as other isocortical areas differing in modular organization. Dolphin insula exhibited a high degree of verticality consistent with conserved minicolumnar organization. Our findings indicate that a basic structural motif of isocortex is synapomorphic in a species of marine mammal exhibiting unique phylogenetically derived isocortical characteristics.
PMCID: PMC3332127  PMID: 22532930
Cetaceans; Neocortex; Minicolumns; Pyramidal cells; Tursiops truncatus
3.  Sexual Selection and the Evolution of Brain Size in Primates 
PLoS ONE  2006;1(1):e62.
Reproductive competition among males has long been considered a powerful force in the evolution of primates. The evolution of brain size and complexity in the Order Primates has been widely regarded as the hallmark of primate evolutionary history. Despite their importance to our understanding of primate evolution, the relationship between sexual selection and the evolutionary development of brain size is not well studied. The present research examines the evolutionary relationship between brain size and two components of primate sexual selection, sperm competition and male competition for mates. Results indicate that there is not a significant relationship between relative brain size and sperm competition as measured by relative testis size in primates, suggesting sperm competition has not played an important role in the evolution of brain size in the primate order. There is, however, a significant negative evolutionary relationship between relative brain size and the level of male competition for mates. The present study shows that the largest relative brain sizes among primate species are associated with monogamous mating systems, suggesting primate monogamy may require greater social acuity and abilities of deception.
PMCID: PMC1762360  PMID: 17183693
4.  Understanding primate brain evolution 
We present a detailed reanalysis of the comparative brain data for primates, and develop a model using path analysis that seeks to present the coevolution of primate brain (neocortex) and sociality within a broader ecological and life-history framework. We show that body size, basal metabolic rate and life history act as constraints on brain evolution and through this influence the coevolution of neocortex size and group size. However, they do not determine either of these variables, which appear to be locked in a tight coevolutionary system. We show that, within primates, this relationship is specific to the neocortex. Nonetheless, there are important constraints on brain evolution; we use path analysis to show that, in order to evolve a large neocortex, a species must first evolve a large brain to support that neocortex and this in turn requires adjustments in diet (to provide the energy needed) and life history (to allow sufficient time both for brain growth and for ‘software’ programming). We review a wider literature demonstrating a tight coevolutionary relationship between brain size and sociality in a range of mammalian taxa, but emphasize that the social brain hypothesis is not about the relationship between brain/neocortex size and group size per se; rather, it is about social complexity and we adduce evidence to support this. Finally, we consider the wider issue of how mammalian (and primate) brains evolve in order to localize the social effects.
PMCID: PMC2346523  PMID: 17301028
brain evolution; life history; neocortex; primate; social brain hypothesis
5.  Thoughts on the development, structure and evolution of the mammalian and avian telencephalic pallium. 
Various lines of evidence suggest that the development and evolution of the mammalian isocortex cannot be easily explained without an understanding of correlative changes in surrounding areas of the telencephalic pallium and subpallium. These are close neighbours in a common morphogenetic field and are postulated as sources of some cortical neuron types (and even of whole cortical areas). There is equal need to explain relevant developmental evolutionary changes in the dorsal thalamus, the major source of afferent inputs to the telencephalon (to both the pallium and subpallium). The mammalian isocortex evolved within an initially small dorsal part of the pallium of vertebrates, surrounded by other pallial parts, including some with a non-cortical, nuclear structure. Nuclear pallial elements are markedly voluminous in reptiles and birds, where they build the dorsal ventricular ridge, or hypopallium, which has been recently divided molecularly and structurally into a lateral pallium and a ventral pallium. Afferent pallial connections are often simplified as consisting of thalamic fibres that project either to focal cell aggregates in the ventral pallium (predominant in reptiles and birds) or to corticoid areas in the dorsal pallium (predominant in mammals). Karten's hypothesis, put forward in 1969, on the formation of some isocortical areas postulates an embryonic translocation into the nascent isocortex of the ventropallial thalamorecipient foci and respective downstream ventropallial target populations, as specific layer IV, layers II- III, or layers V-VI neuron populations. This view is considered critically in the light of various recent data, contrasting with the alternative possibility of a parallel, separate evolution of the different pallial parts. The new scenario reveals as well a separately evolving tiered structure of the dorsal thalamus, some of whose parts receive input from midbrain sensory centres (collothalamic nuclei), whereas other parts receive oligosynaptic 'lemniscal' connections bypassing the midbrain (lemnothalamic nuclei). An ampler look into known hodological patterns from this viewpoint suggests that ancient collothalamic pathways, which target ventropallial foci, are largely conserved in mammals, while some emergent cortical connections can be established by means of new collaterals in some of these pathways. The lemnothalamic pathways, which typically target ancestrally the dorsopallial isocortex, show parallel increments of relative size and structural diversification of both the thalamic cell populations and the cortical recipient areas. The evolving lemnothalamic pathways may interact developmentally with collothalamic corticopetal collaterals in the modality-specific invasion of the emergent new areas of isocortex.
PMCID: PMC1088538  PMID: 11604125
6.  Multiple Determinants of Whole and Regional Brain Volume among Terrestrial Carnivorans 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38447.
Mammalian brain volumes vary considerably, even after controlling for body size. Although several hypotheses have been proposed to explain this variation, most research in mammals on the evolution of encephalization has focused on primates, leaving the generality of these explanations uncertain. Furthermore, much research still addresses only one hypothesis at a time, despite the demonstrated importance of considering multiple factors simultaneously. We used phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate simultaneously the importance of several factors previously hypothesized to be important in neural evolution among mammalian carnivores, including social complexity, forelimb use, home range size, diet, life history, phylogeny, and recent evolutionary changes in body size. We also tested hypotheses suggesting roles for these variables in determining the relative volume of four brain regions measured using computed tomography. Our data suggest that, in contrast to brain size in primates, carnivoran brain size may lag behind body size over evolutionary time. Moreover, carnivore species that primarily consume vertebrates have the largest brains. Although we found no support for a role of social complexity in overall encephalization, relative cerebrum volume correlated positively with sociality. Finally, our results support negative relationships among different brain regions after accounting for overall endocranial volume, suggesting that increased size of one brain regions is often accompanied by reduced size in other regions rather than overall brain expansion.
PMCID: PMC3374790  PMID: 22719890
7.  Primate brain architecture and selection in relation to sex 
BMC Biology  2007;5:20.
Social and competitive demands often differ between the sexes in mammals. These differing demands should be expected to produce variation in the relative sizes of various brain structures. Sexual selection on males can be predicted to influence brain components handling sensory-motor skills that are important for physical competition or neural pathways involving aggression. Conversely, because female fitness is more closely linked to ecological factors and social interactions that enable better acquisition of resources, social selection on females should select for brain components important for navigating social networks. Sexual and social selection acting on one sex could produce sexual dimorphism in brain structures, which would result in larger species averages for those same brain structures. Alternatively, sex-specific selection pressures could produce correlated effects in the other sex, resulting in larger brain structures for both males and females of a species. Data are presently unavailable for the sex-specific sizes of brain structures for anthropoid primates, but under either scenario, the effects of sexual and social selection should leave a detectable signal in average sizes of brain structures for different species.
The degree of male intra-sexual selection was positively correlated with several structures involved in autonomic functions and sensory-motor skills, and in pathways relating to aggression and aggression control. The degree of male intra-sexual selection was not correlated with relative neocortex size, which instead was significantly positively correlated with female social group size, but negatively correlated with male group size.
Sexual selection on males and social selection on females have exerted different effects on primate brain architecture. Species with a higher degree of male intra-sexual selection carry a neural signature of an evolutionary history centered on physical conflicts, but no traces of increased demands on sociocognitive tasks. Conversely, female sociality is indicated to have driven the evolution of socio-cognitive skills. Primate brain architecture is therefore likely to be a product of ecological and species-specific social factors as well as different sex-specific selection pressures. Our results also highlight the need for acquisition and analysis of sex-specific brain components in mammals.
PMCID: PMC1885794  PMID: 17493264
8.  Social intelligence in the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) 
If the large brains and great intelligence characteristic of primates were favoured by selection pressures associated with life in complex societies, then cognitive abilities and nervous systems with primate-like attributes should have evolved convergently in non-primate mammals living in large, elaborate societies in which social dexterity enhances individual fitness. The societies of spotted hyenas are remarkably like those of cercopithecine primates with respect to size, structure and patterns of competition and cooperation. These similarities set an ideal stage for comparative analysis of social intelligence and nervous system organization. As in cercopithecine primates, spotted hyenas use multiple sensory modalities to recognize their kin and other conspecifics as individuals, they recognize third-party kin and rank relationships among their clan mates, and they use this knowledge adaptively during social decision making. However, hyenas appear to rely more intensively than primates on social facilitation and simple rules of thumb in social decision making. No evidence to date suggests that hyenas are capable of true imitation. Finally, it appears that the gross anatomy of the brain in spotted hyenas might resemble that in primates with respect to expansion of frontal cortex, presumed to be involved in the mediation of social behaviour.
PMCID: PMC2346515  PMID: 17289649
hyena; hyaena; intelligence; social cognition; brain morphology
9.  An Exploration of the Social Brain Hypothesis in Insects 
The “social brain hypothesis” posits that the cognitive demands of sociality have driven the evolution of substantially enlarged brains in primates and some other mammals. Whether such reasoning can apply to all social animals is an open question. Here we examine the evolutionary relationships between sociality, cognition, and brain size in insects, a taxonomic group characterized by an extreme sophistication of social behaviors and relatively simple nervous systems. We discuss the application of the social brain hypothesis in this group, based on comparative studies of brain volumes across species exhibiting various levels of social complexity. We illustrate how some of the major behavioral innovations of social insects may in fact require little information-processing and minor adjustments of neural circuitry, thus potentially selecting for more specialized rather than bigger brains. We argue that future work aiming to understand how animal behavior, cognition, and brains are shaped by the environment (including social interactions) should focus on brain functions and identify neural circuitry correlates of social tasks, not only brain sizes.
PMCID: PMC3506958  PMID: 23205013
cognition; insects; mushroom bodies; sociality; social brain hypothesis
10.  Visual specialization and brain evolution in primates. 
Several theories have been proposed to explain the evolution of species differences in brain size, but no consensus has emerged. One unresolved question is whether brain size differences are a result of neural specializations or of biological constraints affecting the whole brain. Here I show that, among primates, brain size variation is associated with visual specialization. Primates with large brains for their body size have relatively expanded visual brain areas, including the primary visual cortex and lateral geniculate nucleus. Within the visual system, it is, in particular, one functionally specialized pathway upon which selection has acted: evolutionary changes in the number of neurons in parvocellular, but not magnocellular, layers of the lateral geniculate nucleus are correlated with changes in both brain size and ecological variables (diet and social group size). Given the known functions of the parvocellular pathway, these results suggest that the relatively large brains of frugivorous species are products of selection on the ability to perceive and select fruits using specific visual cues such as colour. The separate correlation between group size and visual brain evolution, on the other hand, may indicate the visual basis of social information processing in the primate brain.
PMCID: PMC1689478  PMID: 9821360
11.  Socially induced brain development in a facultatively eusocial sweat bee Megalopta genalis (Halictidae) 
Changes in the relative size of brain regions are often dependent on experience and environmental stimulation, which includes an animal's social environment. Some studies suggest that social interactions are cognitively demanding, and have examined predictions that the evolution of sociality led to the evolution of larger brains. Previous studies have compared species with different social organizations or different groups within obligately social species. Here, we report the first intraspecific study to examine how social experience shapes brain volume using a species with facultatively eusocial or solitary behaviour, the sweat bee Megalopta genalis. Serial histological sections were used to reconstruct and measure the volume of brain areas of bees behaving as social reproductives, social workers, solitary reproductives or 1-day-old bees that are undifferentiated with respect to the social phenotype. Social reproductives showed increased development of the mushroom body (an area of the insect brain associated with sensory integration and learning) relative to social workers and solitary reproductives. The gross neuroanatomy of young bees is developmentally similar to the advanced eusocial species previously studied, despite vast differences in colony size and social organization. Our results suggest that the transition from solitary to social behaviour is associated with modified brain development, and that maintaining dominance, rather than sociality per se, leads to increased mushroom body development, even in the smallest social groups possible (i.e. groups with two bees). Such results suggest that capabilities to navigate the complexities of social life may be a factor shaping brain evolution in some social insects, as for some vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC2880158  PMID: 20335213
brain organization; social evolution; social brain; Machiavellian intelligence; neural plasticity; mushroom bodies
12.  Group Size Predicts Social but Not Nonsocial Cognition in Lemurs 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66359.
The social intelligence hypothesis suggests that living in large social networks was the primary selective pressure for the evolution of complex cognition in primates. This hypothesis is supported by comparative studies demonstrating a positive relationship between social group size and relative brain size across primates. However, the relationship between brain size and cognition remains equivocal. Moreover, there have been no experimental studies directly testing the association between group size and cognition across primates. We tested the social intelligence hypothesis by comparing 6 primate species (total N = 96) characterized by different group sizes on two cognitive tasks. Here, we show that a species’ typical social group size predicts performance on cognitive measures of social cognition, but not a nonsocial measure of inhibitory control. We also show that a species’ mean brain size (in absolute or relative terms) does not predict performance on either task in these species. These data provide evidence for a relationship between group size and social cognition in primates, and reveal the potential for cognitive evolution without concomitant changes in brain size. Furthermore our results underscore the need for more empirical studies of animal cognition, which have the power to reveal species differences in cognition not detectable by proxy variables, such as brain size.
PMCID: PMC3694165  PMID: 23840450
13.  Functional Brain Networks Develop from a “Local to Distributed” Organization 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(5):e1000381.
The mature human brain is organized into a collection of specialized functional networks that flexibly interact to support various cognitive functions. Studies of development often attempt to identify the organizing principles that guide the maturation of these functional networks. In this report, we combine resting state functional connectivity MRI (rs-fcMRI), graph analysis, community detection, and spring-embedding visualization techniques to analyze four separate networks defined in earlier studies. As we have previously reported, we find, across development, a trend toward ‘segregation’ (a general decrease in correlation strength) between regions close in anatomical space and ‘integration’ (an increased correlation strength) between selected regions distant in space. The generalization of these earlier trends across multiple networks suggests that this is a general developmental principle for changes in functional connectivity that would extend to large-scale graph theoretic analyses of large-scale brain networks. Communities in children are predominantly arranged by anatomical proximity, while communities in adults predominantly reflect functional relationships, as defined from adult fMRI studies. In sum, over development, the organization of multiple functional networks shifts from a local anatomical emphasis in children to a more “distributed” architecture in young adults. We argue that this “local to distributed” developmental characterization has important implications for understanding the development of neural systems underlying cognition. Further, graph metrics (e.g., clustering coefficients and average path lengths) are similar in child and adult graphs, with both showing “small-world”-like properties, while community detection by modularity optimization reveals stable communities within the graphs that are clearly different between young children and young adults. These observations suggest that early school age children and adults both have relatively efficient systems that may solve similar information processing problems in divergent ways.
Author Summary
The first two decades of life represent a period of extraordinary developmental change in sensory, motor, and cognitive abilities. One of the ultimate goals of developmental cognitive neuroscience is to link the complex behavioral milestones that occur throughout this time period with the equally intricate functional and structural changes of the underlying neural substrate. Achieving this goal would not only give us a deeper understanding of normal development but also a richer insight into the nature of developmental disorders. In this report, we use computational analyses, in combination with a recently developed MRI technique that measures spontaneous brain activity, to help us to understand the principles that guide the maturation of the human brain. We find that brain regions in children communicate with other regions more locally but that over age communication becomes more distributed. Interestingly, the efficiency of communication in children (measured as a ‘small world’ network) is comparable to that of the adult. We argue that these findings have important implications for understanding both the maturation and the function of neural systems in typical and atypical development.
PMCID: PMC2671306  PMID: 19412534
14.  Decreased Brain Volume in Adults with Childhood Lead Exposure 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(5):e112.
Although environmental lead exposure is associated with significant deficits in cognition, executive functions, social behaviors, and motor abilities, the neuroanatomical basis for these impairments remains poorly understood. In this study, we examined the relationship between childhood lead exposure and adult brain volume using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We also explored how volume changes correlate with historic neuropsychological assessments.
Methods and Findings
Volumetric analyses of whole brain MRI data revealed significant decreases in brain volume associated with childhood blood lead concentrations. Using conservative, minimum contiguous cluster size and statistical criteria (700 voxels, unadjusted p < 0.001), approximately 1.2% of the total gray matter was significantly and inversely associated with mean childhood blood lead concentration. The most affected regions included frontal gray matter, specifically the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Areas of lead-associated gray matter volume loss were much larger and more significant in men than women. We found that fine motor factor scores positively correlated with gray matter volume in the cerebellar hemispheres; adding blood lead concentrations as a variable to the model attenuated this correlation.
Childhood lead exposure is associated with region-specific reductions in adult gray matter volume. Affected regions include the portions of the prefrontal cortex and ACC responsible for executive functions, mood regulation, and decision-making. These neuroanatomical findings were more pronounced for males, suggesting that lead-related atrophic changes have a disparate impact across sexes. This analysis suggests that adverse cognitive and behavioral outcomes may be related to lead's effect on brain development producing persistent alterations in structure. Using a simple model, we found that blood lead concentration mediates brain volume and fine motor function.
Using magnetic resonance imaging to assess brain volumes, Kim Cecil and colleagues find that inner-city children with higher blood lead levels showed regions of decreased gray matter as adults.
Editors' Summary
Lead is a highly toxic metal that is present throughout the environment because of various human activities. In particular, for many years, large amounts of lead were used in paint, in solder for water pipes, in gasoline, and in ceramic glazes. But, as the harmful health effects of lead have become clear, its use in these and other products has been gradually phased out. Breathing air, drinking water, or eating food that contains lead can damage almost every organ in the human body. The organ that is most sensitive to lead exposure is the brain, and children's brains are particularly vulnerable because they are still developing. Children who swallow large amounts of lead can develop widespread brain damage that causes convulsions and sometimes death. Children who are repeatedly exposed to low to moderate amounts of lead (e.g., through accidentally swallowing residues of old lead paint or contaminated soil) can develop learning or behavioral problems.
Why Was This Study Done?
Lead exposure has been linked with various types of brain damage. These include problems with thinking (cognition); difficulties with organizing actions, decisions, and behaviors (executive functions); abnormal social behavior (including aggression); and difficulties in coordinating fine movements, such as picking up small objects (fine motor control). However, we know little about how lead damages the brain in this way and little about which brain regions are affected by exposure to low to moderate levels of lead during childhood. In this study, the researchers wanted to test the possibility that childhood lead exposure might lead to shrinking (“volume loss”) parts of the brain, particularly the parts that are crucial to cognition and behavior. They therefore studied the relationship between childhood lead exposure and adult brain volume. They also explored whether there is a relationship between brain volume and measures of brain functioning, such as fine motor control, memory, and learning assessed during adolescence.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between 1979 and 1984, the researchers recruited babies born in poor areas of Cincinnati, where there were many old, lead-contaminated houses, into the Cincinnati Lead Study. They measured their blood lead levels regularly from birth until they were 78 months old and calculated each child's average blood lead level over this period. They then used brain scans (known as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI) to measure the brain volumes of the participants when they were 19–24 years old. The researchers found that exposure to lead as a child was linked with brain volume loss in adulthood, particularly in men. There was a “dose-response” effect—in other words, the greatest brain volume loss was seen in participants with the greatest lead exposure in childhood. The brain volume loss was most noticeable in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex—especially a region called the “anterior cingulate cortex.” When they examined the relationship between brain volume and measures of brain functioning, they found a link between brain volume and fine motor control, but not with the other measures.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that childhood lead exposure is associated with brain volume loss in adults, in specific regions of the brain. These brain regions are responsible for executive functions, regulating behavior, and fine motor control. Lead exposure has a larger effect on brain volumes in men than in women, which might help to explain the higher incidence of antisocial behaviors among men than women. Overall, these findings may explain why children and adults who have a history of lead exposure have behavioral and other problems, and support ongoing efforts to reduce childhood lead exposure in the US and other countries.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A PLoS Medicine Perspective article by David Bellinger further discusses this study and a related paper on child exposure to lead and criminal arrests in adulthood
Toxtown, an interactive site from the US National Library of Medicine, provides information on environmental health concerns including exposure to lead (in English and Spanish)
The US Environmental Protection Agency provides information on lead in paint, dust, and soil and on protecting children from lead poisoning (in English and Spanish)
Medline Plus and the US National Library of Medicine Specialized Information Services provide lists of links to information on lead and human health (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about its Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
The UK Health Protection Agency also provides information about lead and its health hazards
PMCID: PMC2689675  PMID: 18507499
15.  Division of Labor in the Hyperdiverse Ant Genus Pheidole Is Associated with Distinct Subcaste- and Age-Related Patterns of Worker Brain Organization 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31618.
The evolutionary success of ants and other social insects is considered to be intrinsically linked to division of labor among workers. The role of the brains of individual ants in generating division of labor, however, is poorly understood, as is the degree to which interspecific variation in worker social phenotypes is underscored by functional neurobiological differentiation. Here we demonstrate that dimorphic minor and major workers of different ages from three ecotypical species of the hyperdiverse ant genus Pheidole have distinct patterns of neuropil size variation. Brain subregions involved in sensory input (optic and antennal lobes), sensory integration, learning and memory (mushroom bodies), and motor functions (central body and subesophageal ganglion) vary significantly in relative size, reflecting differential investment in neuropils that likely regulate subcaste- and age-correlated task performance. Worker groups differ in brain size and display patterns of altered isometric and allometric subregion scaling that affect brain architecture independently of brain size variation. In particular, mushroom body size was positively correlated with task plasticity in the context of both age- and subcaste-related polyethism, providing strong, novel support that greater investment in this neuropil increases behavioral flexibility. Our findings reveal striking levels of developmental plasticity and evolutionary flexibility in Pheidole worker neuroanatomy, supporting the hypothesis that mosaic alterations of brain composition contribute to adaptive colony structure and interspecific variation in social organization.
PMCID: PMC3281964  PMID: 22363686
16.  Eye-Blink Behaviors in 71 Species of Primates 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e66018.
The present study was performed to investigate the associations between eye-blink behaviors and various other factors in primates. We video-recorded 141 individuals across 71 primate species and analyzed the blink rate, blink duration, and “isolated” blink ratio (i.e., blinks without eye or head movement) in relation to activity rhythms, habitat types, group size, and body size factors. The results showed close relationships between three types of eye-blink measures and body size factors. All of these measures increased as a function of body weight. In addition, diurnal primates showed more blinks than nocturnal species even after controlling for body size factors. The most important findings were the relationships between eye-blink behaviors and social factors, e.g., group size. Among diurnal primates, only the blink rate was significantly correlated even after controlling for body size factors. The blink rate increased as the group size increased. Enlargement of the neocortex is strongly correlated with group size in primate species and considered strong evidence for the social brain hypothesis. Our results suggest that spontaneous eye-blinks have acquired a role in social communication, similar to grooming, to adapt to complex social living during primate evolution.
PMCID: PMC3669291  PMID: 23741522
17.  The significance of the subplate for evolution and developmental plasticity of the human brain 
The human life-history is characterized by long development and introduction of new developmental stages, such as childhood and adolescence. The developing brain had important role in these life-history changes because it is expensive tissue which uses up to 80% of resting metabolic rate (RMR) in the newborn and continues to use almost 50% of it during the first 5 postnatal years. Our hominid ancestors managed to lift-up metabolic constraints to increase in brain size by several interrelated ecological, behavioral and social adaptations, such as dietary change, invention of cooking, creation of family-bonded reproductive units, and life-history changes. This opened new vistas for the developing brain, because it became possible to metabolically support transient patterns of brain organization as well as developmental brain plasticity for much longer period and with much greater number of neurons and connectivity combinations in comparison to apes. This included the shaping of cortical connections through the interaction with infant's social environment, which probably enhanced typically human evolution of language, cognition and self-awareness. In this review, we propose that the transient subplate zone and its postnatal remnant (interstitial neurons of the gyral white matter) probably served as the main playground for evolution of these developmental shifts, and describe various features that makes human subplate uniquely positioned to have such a role in comparison with other primates.
PMCID: PMC3731572  PMID: 23935575
cerebral cortex; neuron number; life-history; metabolic cost; subplate zone
18.  Variation in human brains may facilitate evolutionary change toward a limited range of phenotypes 
Brain, behavior and evolution  2013;81(2):74-85.
Individual variation is the foundation for evolutionary change, but little is known about the nature of normal variation between brains. Phylogenetic variation across mammalian brains is characterized by high inter-correlations in brain region volumes, distinct allometric scaling for each brain region and the relative independence in olfactory and limbic structures volumes from the rest of the brain. Previous work examining brain variation in individuals of some domesticated species showed that these three features of phylogenetic variation were mirrored in individual variation. We extend this analysis to the human brain and 10 of its subdivisions (e.g., isocortex, hippocampus) by using magnetic resonance imaging scans of 90 human brains ranging between 16 to 25 years of age. Human brain variation resembles both the individual variation seen in other species, and variation observed across mammalian species. That is, the relative differences in the slopes of each brain region compared to medulla size within humans and between mammals are concordant, and limbic structures scale with relative independence from other brain regions. This non-random pattern of variation suggests that developmental programs channel the variation available for selection.
PMCID: PMC3658611  PMID: 23363667
Allometry; Variation; Human; Brain; Evolution
19.  The evolution of primate general and cultural intelligence 
There are consistent individual differences in human intelligence, attributable to a single ‘general intelligence’ factor, g. The evolutionary basis of g and its links to social learning and culture remain controversial. Conflicting hypotheses regard primate cognition as divided into specialized, independently evolving modules versus a single general process. To assess how processes underlying culture relate to one another and other cognitive capacities, we compiled ecologically relevant cognitive measures from multiple domains, namely reported incidences of behavioural innovation, social learning, tool use, extractive foraging and tactical deception, in 62 primate species. All exhibited strong positive associations in principal component and factor analyses, after statistically controlling for multiple potential confounds. This highly correlated composite of cognitive traits suggests social, technical and ecological abilities have coevolved in primates, indicative of an across-species general intelligence that includes elements of cultural intelligence. Our composite species-level measure of general intelligence, ‘primate gS’, covaried with both brain volume and captive learning performance measures. Our findings question the independence of cognitive traits and do not support ‘massive modularity’ in primate cognition, nor an exclusively social model of primate intelligence. High general intelligence has independently evolved at least four times, with convergent evolution in capuchins, baboons, macaques and great apes.
PMCID: PMC3049098  PMID: 21357224
social learning; behavioural innovation; tool use; cognitive evolution; brain evolution; culture
20.  Brain structure evolution in a basal vertebrate clade: evidence from phylogenetic comparative analysis of cichlid fishes 
The vertebrate brain is composed of several interconnected, functionally distinct structures and much debate has surrounded the basic question of how these structures evolve. On the one hand, according to the 'mosaic evolution hypothesis', because of the elevated metabolic cost of brain tissue, selection is expected to target specific structures mediating the cognitive abilities which are being favored. On the other hand, the 'concerted evolution hypothesis' argues that developmental constraints limit such mosaic evolution and instead the size of the entire brain varies in response to selection on any of its constituent parts. To date, analyses of these hypotheses of brain evolution have been limited to mammals and birds; excluding Actinopterygii, the basal and most diverse class of vertebrates. Using a combination of recently developed phylogenetic multivariate allometry analyses and comparative methods that can identify distinct rates of evolution, even in highly correlated traits, we studied brain structure evolution in a highly variable clade of ray-finned fishes; the Tanganyikan cichlids.
Total brain size explained 86% of the variance in brain structure volume in cichlids, a lower proportion than what has previously been reported for mammals. Brain structures showed variation in pair-wise allometry suggesting some degree of independence in evolutionary changes in size. This result is supported by variation among structures on the strength of their loadings on the principal size axis of the allometric analysis. The rate of evolution analyses generally supported the results of the multivariate allometry analyses, showing variation among several structures in their evolutionary patterns. The olfactory bulbs and hypothalamus were found to evolve faster than other structures while the dorsal medulla presented the slowest evolutionary rate.
Our results favor a mosaic model of brain evolution, as certain structures are evolving in a modular fashion, with a small but non-negligible influence of concerted evolution in cichlid fishes. Interestingly, one of the structures presenting distinct evolutionary patterns within cichlids, the olfactory bulbs, has also been shown to evolve differently from other structures in mammals. Hence, our results for a basal vertebrate clade also point towards a conserved developmental plan for all vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC2755010  PMID: 19772561
21.  Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000316.
In a meta-analysis, Julianne Holt-Lunstad and colleagues find that individuals' social relationships have as much influence on mortality risk as other well-established risk factors for mortality, such as smoking.
The quality and quantity of individuals' social relationships has been linked not only to mental health but also to both morbidity and mortality.
This meta-analytic review was conducted to determine the extent to which social relationships influence risk for mortality, which aspects of social relationships are most highly predictive, and which factors may moderate the risk.
Data Extraction
Data were extracted on several participant characteristics, including cause of mortality, initial health status, and pre-existing health conditions, as well as on study characteristics, including length of follow-up and type of assessment of social relationships.
Across 148 studies (308,849 participants), the random effects weighted average effect size was OR = 1.50 (95% CI 1.42 to 1.59), indicating a 50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships. This finding remained consistent across age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period. Significant differences were found across the type of social measurement evaluated (p<0.001); the association was strongest for complex measures of social integration (OR = 1.91; 95% CI 1.63 to 2.23) and lowest for binary indicators of residential status (living alone versus with others) (OR = 1.19; 95% CI 0.99 to 1.44).
The influence of social relationships on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Humans are naturally social. Yet, the modern way of life in industrialized countries is greatly reducing the quantity and quality of social relationships. Many people in these countries no longer live in extended families or even near each other. Instead, they often live on the other side of the country or even across the world from their relatives. Many also delay getting married and having children. Likwise, more and more people of all ages in developed countries are living alone, and loneliness is becoming increasingly common. In the UK, according to a recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of people often feel lonely, a third have a close friend or relative who they think is very lonely, and half think that people are getting lonelier in general. Similarly, across the Atlantic, over the past two decades there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants. There is reason to believe that people are becoming more socially isolated.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some experts think that social isolation is bad for human health. They point to a 1988 review of five prospective studies (investigations in which the characteristics of a population are determined and then the population is followed to see whether any of these characteristics are associated with specific outcomes) that showed that people with fewer social relationships die earlier on average than those with more social relationships. But, even though many prospective studies of mortality (death) have included measures of social relationships since that first review, the idea that a lack of social relationships is a risk factor for death is still not widely recognized by health organizations and the public. In this study, therefore, the researchers undertake a systematic review and meta-analysis of the relevant literature to determine the extent to which social relationships influence mortality risk and which aspects of social relationships are most predictive of mortality. A systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; a meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 148 prospective studies that provided data on individuals' mortality as a function of social relationships and extracted an “effect size” from each study. An effect size quantifies the size of a difference between two groups—here, the difference in the likelihood of death between groups that differ in terms of their social relationships. The researchers then used a statistical method called “random effects modeling” to calculate the average effect size of the studies expressed as an odds ratio (OR)—the ratio of the chances of an event happening in one group to the chances of the same event happening in the second group. They report that the average OR was 1.5. That is, people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships. Put another way, an OR of 1.5 means that by the time half of a hypothetical sample of 100 people has died, there will be five more people alive with stronger social relationships than people with weaker social relationships. Importantly, the researchers also report that social relationships were more predictive of the risk of death in studies that considered complex measurements of social integration than in studies that considered simple evaluations such as marital status.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity. Furthermore, the overall effect of social relationships on mortality reported in this meta-analysis might be an underestimate, because many of the studies used simple single-item measures of social isolation rather than a complex measurement. Although further research is needed to determine exactly how social relationships can be used to reduce mortality risk, physicians, health professionals, educators, and the media should now acknowledge that social relationships influence the health outcomes of adults and should take social relationships as seriously as other risk factors that affect mortality, the researchers conclude.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The Mental Health America Live Your Life Well page includes information about how social relationships improve both mental and physical health
The Mental Health Foundation, a UK charity, has information on loneliness and mental health; its report “The Lonely Society?” can be downloaded from this page
The Mayo Clinic has information on social support as a way to manage stress
The Pew Research Foundation has information on technology and social isolation
Wikipedia has a page on social isolation (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC2910600  PMID: 20668659
22.  Social bonds and rank acquisition in raven nonbreeder aggregations 
Animal Behaviour  2012;84(6):1507-1515.
Complex social life has been characterized as cognitively challenging and recently, social relationships such as long-term social bonds and alliances have been identified as key elements for brain evolution. Whereas good evidence is available to support the link between social relations and cognition in mammals, it remains unsatisfying for birds. Here we investigated the role of avian social bonds in a nonbreeder aggregation of ravens, Corvus corax, in the Austrian Alps. We individually marked 138 wild ravens, representing approximately half of a population that uses the area of a local zoo for foraging. For 2 years, we observed the dynamics of group composition and the birds' agonistic and affiliative interactions. We identified two levels of organization: the formation of an unrelated local group and the individuals' engagement in social bonds of different length and reciprocity pattern. Whereas belonging to the local group had no significant effect on conflicts won during foraging, the individual bonding type did. Birds that engaged in affiliative relationships were more successful when competing for food than those without such bonds. Bonded birds did suffer from aggression by other bonded birds and, probably as a consequence, most of the ravens' social relations were not stable over time. These results support the idea that social bonding and selective cooperation and competition are prominent features in nonbreeding ravens. Proximately, bonding may qualify as a social manoeuvre that facilitates access to resources; ultimately it might function to assess the quality of a partner in these long-term monogamous birds.
► Big brains correlate with the formation of strong nonsexual bonds in mammals. ► We examine formation and use of bonds in birds, namely wild nonbreeder ravens. ► Individuals engage in different social bonds and benefit from them in conflicts. ► Active investment in nonsexual strong bonds for rank acquisition in a big-brained bird.
PMCID: PMC3518779  PMID: 23264693
Corvus corax; dominance; nonbreeder aggregation; raven; social bond; social structure
23.  Phylogenetic signal in primate behaviour, ecology and life history 
Examining biological diversity in an explicitly evolutionary context has been the subject of research for several decades, yet relatively recent advances in analytical techniques and the increasing availability of species-level phylogenies, have enabled scientists to ask new questions. One such approach is to quantify phylogenetic signal to determine how trait variation is correlated with the phylogenetic relatedness of species. When phylogenetic signal is high, closely related species exhibit similar traits, and this biological similarity decreases as the evolutionary distance between species increases. Here, we first review the concept of phylogenetic signal and suggest how to measure and interpret phylogenetic signal in species traits. Second, we quantified phylogenetic signal in primates for 31 variables, including body mass, brain size, life-history, sexual selection, social organization, diet, activity budget, ranging patterns and climatic variables. We found that phylogenetic signal varies extensively across and even within trait categories. The highest values are exhibited by brain size and body mass, moderate values are found in the degree of territoriality and canine size dimorphism, while low values are displayed by most of the remaining variables. Our results have important implications for the evolution of behaviour and ecology in primates and other vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC3638444  PMID: 23569289
macroevolution; phylogenetic comparative methods; trait variation; Brownian motion; mammal
24.  Brain reorganization, not relative brain size, primarily characterizes anthropoid brain evolution 
Comparative analyses of primate brain evolution have highlighted changes in size and internal organization as key factors underlying species diversity. It remains, however, unclear (i) how much variation in mosaic brain reorganization versus variation in relative brain size contributes to explaining the structural neural diversity observed across species, (ii) which mosaic changes contribute most to explaining diversity, and (iii) what the temporal origin, rates and processes are that underlie evolutionary shifts in mosaic reorganization for individual branches of the primate tree of life. We address these questions by combining novel comparative methods that allow assessing the temporal origin, rate and process of evolutionary changes on individual branches of the tree of life, with newly available data on volumes of key brain structures (prefrontal cortex, frontal motor areas and cerebrocerebellum) for a sample of 17 species (including humans). We identify patterns of mosaic change in brain evolution that mirror brain systems previously identified by electrophysiological and anatomical tract-tracing studies in non-human primates and functional connectivity MRI studies in humans. Across more than 40 Myr of anthropoid primate evolution, mosaic changes contribute more to explaining neural diversity than changes in relative brain size, and different mosaic patterns are differentially selected for when brains increase or decrease in size. We identify lineage-specific evolutionary specializations for all branches of the tree of life covered by our sample and demonstrate deep evolutionary roots for mosaic patterns associated with motor control and learning.
PMCID: PMC3619515  PMID: 23536600
brain evolution; primates; prefrontal; cerebellum; hippocampus; variable rates method
25.  Evolution of a behavior-linked microsatellite-containing element in the 5' flanking region of the primate AVPR1A gene 
The arginine vasopressin V1a receptor (V1aR) modulates social cognition and behavior in a wide variety of species. Variation in a repetitive microsatellite element in the 5' flanking region of the V1aR gene (AVPR1A) in rodents has been associated with variation in brain V1aR expression and in social behavior. In humans, the 5' flanking region of AVPR1A contains a tandem duplication of two ~350 bp, microsatellite-containing elements located approximately 3.5 kb upstream of the transcription start site. The first block, referred to as DupA, contains a polymorphic (GT)25 microsatellite; the second block, DupB, has a complex (CT)4-(TT)-(CT)8-(GT)24 polymorphic motif, known as RS3. Polymorphisms in RS3 have been associated with variation in sociobehavioral traits in humans, including autism spectrum disorders. Thus, evolution of these regions may have contributed to variation in social behavior in primates. We examined the structure of these regions in six ape, six monkey, and one prosimian species.
Both tandem repeat blocks are present upstream of the AVPR1A coding region in five of the ape species we investigated, while monkeys have only one copy of this region. As in humans, the microsatellites within DupA and DupB are polymorphic in many primate species. Furthermore, both single (lacking DupB) and duplicated alleles (containing both DupA and DupB) are present in chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) populations with allele frequencies of 0.795 and 0.205 for the single and duplicated alleles, respectively, based on the analysis of 47 wild-caught individuals. Finally, a phylogenetic reconstruction suggests two alternate evolutionary histories for this locus.
There is no obvious relationship between the presence of the RS3 duplication and social organization in primates. However, polymorphisms identified in some species may be useful in future genetic association studies. In particular, the presence of both single and duplicated alleles in chimpanzees provides a unique opportunity to assess the functional role of this duplication in contributing to variation in social behavior in primates. While our initial studies show no signs of directional selection on this locus in chimps, pharmacological and genetic association studies support a potential role for this region in influencing V1aR expression and social behavior.
PMCID: PMC2483724  PMID: 18573213

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