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1.  Developmental changes in the spatial organization of neurons in the neocortex of humans and common chimpanzees 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2013;521(18):4249-4259.
In adult humans, the prefrontal cortex possesses wider minicolumns and more neuropil space than other cortical regions. These aspects of prefrontal cortex architecture, furthermore, are increased in comparison to chimpanzees and other great apes. In order to determine the developmental appearance of this human cortical specialization, we examined the spatial organization of neurons in four cortical regions (frontal pole [Brodmann’s area 10], primary motor [area 4], primary somatosensory [area 3b], and prestriate visual cortex [area 18]) in chimpanzees and humans from birth to approximately the time of adolescence (11 years of age). Horizontal spacing distance (HSD) and gray level ratio (GLR) of layer III neurons were measured in Nissl-stained sections. In both human and chimpanzee area 10, HSD was significantly higher in the post-weaning specimens compared to the pre-weaning ones. No significant age-related differences were seen in the other regions in either species. In concert with other recent studies, the current findings suggest that there is a relatively slower maturation of area 10 in both humans and chimpanzees as compared to other cortical regions, and that further refinement of the spatial organization of neurons within this prefrontal area in humans takes place after the post-weaning periods included here.
PMCID: PMC4041080  PMID: 23839595
minicolumn; evolution; comparative neuroanatomy; biological anthropology
2.  Dendritic Morphology of Pyramidal Neurons in the Chimpanzee Neocortex: Regional Specializations and Comparison to Humans 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2012;23(10):2429-2436.
The primate cerebral cortex is characterized by regional variation in the structure of pyramidal neurons, with more complex dendritic arbors and greater spine density observed in prefrontal compared with sensory and motor cortices. Although there are several investigations in humans and other primates, virtually nothing is known about regional variation in the morphology of pyramidal neurons in the cerebral cortex of great apes, humans' closest living relatives. The current study uses the rapid Golgi stain to quantify the dendritic structure of layer III pyramidal neurons in 4 areas of the chimpanzee cerebral cortex: Primary somatosensory (area 3b), primary motor (area 4), prestriate visual (area 18), and prefrontal (area 10) cortex. Consistent with previous studies in humans and macaque monkeys, pyramidal neurons in the prefrontal cortex of chimpanzees exhibit greater dendritic complexity than those in other cortical regions, suggesting that prefrontal cortical evolution in primates is characterized by increased potential for integrative connectivity. Compared with chimpanzees, the pyramidal neurons of humans had significantly longer and more branched dendritic arbors in all cortical regions.
PMCID: PMC3767963  PMID: 22875862
area 10; dendrites; evolution; Golgi; primate cerebral cortex
3.  A volumetric comparison of the insular cortex and its subregions in primates 
Journal of human evolution  2013;64(4):263-279.
The neuronal composition of the insula in primates displays a gradient, transitioning from granular neocortex in the posterior-dorsal insula to agranular neocortex in the anterior-ventral insula with an intermediate zone of dysgranularity. Additionally, apes and humans exhibit a distinctive subdomain in the agranular insula, the frontoinsular cortex (FI), defined by the presence of clusters of von Economo neurons (VENs). Studies in humans indicate that the ventral anterior insula, including agranular insular cortex and FI, is involved in social awareness, and that the posterodorsal insula, including granular and dysgranular cortices, produces an internal representation of the body’s homeostatic state. We examined the volumes of these cytoarchitectural areas of insular cortex in 30 primate species, including the volume of FI in apes and humans. Results indicate that the whole insula scales hyperallometrically (exponent = 1.13) relative to total brain mass, and the agranular insula (including FI) scales against total brain mass with even greater positive allometry (exponent = 1.23), providing a potential neural basis for enhancement of social cognition in association with increased brain size. The relative volumes of the subdivisions of the insular cortex, after controlling for total brain volume, are not correlated with species typical social group size. Although its size is predicted by primate-wide allometric scaling patterns, we found that the absolute volume of the left and right agranular insula and left FI are among the most differentially expanded of the human cerebral cortex compared to our closest living relative, the chimpanzee.
PMCID: PMC3756831  PMID: 23466178
Allometry; Brain; Evolution; Frontoinsular cortex; Hominoids
4.  Evidence for evolutionary specialization in human limbic structures 
Increasingly, functional and evolutionary research has highlighted the important contribution emotion processing makes to complex human social cognition. As such, it may be asked whether neural structures involved in emotion processing, commonly referred to as limbic structures, have been impacted in human brain evolution. To address this question, we performed an extensive evolutionary analysis of multiple limbic structures using modern phylogenetic tools. For this analysis, we combined new volumetric data for the hominoid (human and ape) amygdala and 4 amygdaloid nuclei, hippocampus, and striatum, collected using stereological methods in complete histological series, with previously published datasets on the amygdala, orbital and medial frontal cortex, and insula, as well as a non-limbic structure, the dorsal frontal cortex, for contrast. We performed a parallel analysis using large published datasets including many anthropoid species (human, ape, and monkey), but fewer hominoids, for the amygdala and 2 amygdaloid subdivisions, hippocampus, schizocortex, striatum, and septal nuclei. To address evolutionary change, we compared observed human values to values predicted from regressions run through (a) non-human hominoids and (b) non-human anthropoids, assessing phylogenetic influence using phylogenetic generalized least squares regression. Compared with other hominoids, the volumes of the hippocampus, the lateral nucleus of the amygdala, and the orbital frontal cortex were, respectively, 50, 37, and 11% greater in humans than predicted for an ape of human hemisphere volume, while the medial and dorsal frontal cortex were, respectively, 26 and 29% significantly smaller. Compared with other anthropoids, only human values for the striatum fell significantly below predicted values. Overall, the data present support for the idea that regions involved in emotion processing are not necessarily conserved or regressive, but may even be enhanced in recent human evolution.
PMCID: PMC4033018  PMID: 24904348
emotion; human brain evolution; hippocampus; amygdala; frontal cortex; comparative neuroanatomy; ape; hominoid
5.  Evolution, development, and plasticity of the human brain: from molecules to bones 
Neuroanatomical, molecular, and paleontological evidence is examined in light of human brain evolution. The brain of extant humans differs from the brains of other primates in its overall size and organization, and differences in size and organization of specific cortical areas and subcortical structures implicated into complex cognition and social and emotional processing. The human brain is also characterized by functional lateralizations, reflecting specializations of the cerebral hemispheres in humans for different types of processing, facilitating fast and reliable communication between neural cells in an enlarged brain. The features observed in the adult brain reflect human-specific patterns of brain development. Compared to the brains of other primates, the human brain takes longer to mature, promoting an extended period for establishing cortical microcircuitry and its modifications. Together, these features may underlie the prolonged period of learning and acquisition of technical and social skills necessary for survival, creating a unique cognitive and behavioral niche typical of our species. The neuroanatomical findings are in concordance with molecular analyses, which suggest a trend toward heterochrony in the expression of genes implicated in different functions. These include synaptogenesis, neuronal maturation, and plasticity in humans, mutations in genes implicated in neurite outgrowth and plasticity, and an increased role of regulatory mechanisms, potentially promoting fast modification of neuronal morphologies in response to new computational demands. At the same time, endocranial casts of fossil hominins provide an insight into the timing of the emergence of uniquely human features in the course of evolution. We conclude by proposing several ways of combining comparative neuroanatomy, molecular biology and insights gained from fossil endocasts in future research.
PMCID: PMC3812990  PMID: 24194709
pyramidal neurons; plasticity; neuropsin; brain evolution; development; amygdala; endocast; human evolution
6.  The von Economo neurons in fronto-insular and anterior cingulate cortex 
The von Economo neurons (VENs) are large bipolar neurons located in fronto-insular cortex (FI) and anterior limbic area (LA) in great apes and humans but not in other primates. Our stereological counts of VENs in FI and LA show them to be more numerous in humans than in apes. In humans, small numbers of VENs appear the 36th week post conception, with numbers increasing during the first eight months after birth. There are significantly more VENs in the right hemisphere in postnatal brains; this may be related to asymmetries in the autonomic nervous system. VENs are also present in elephants and whales and may be a specialization related to very large brain size. The large size and simple dendritic structure of these projection neurons suggest that they rapidly send basic information from FI and LA to other parts of the brain, while slower neighboring pyramids send more detailed information. Selective destruction of VENs in early stages of fronto-temporal dementia implies that they are involved in empathy, social awareness, and self-control, consistent with evidence from functional imaging.
PMCID: PMC3140770  PMID: 21534993
fronto-temporal dementia; autism; schizophrenia; empathy; disgust; self-awareness; hemispheric specialization

Results 1-6 (6)