Interhemispheric communication may be constrained as brain size increases because of transmission delays in action potentials over the length of axons. Although one might expect larger brains to have progressively thicker axons to compensate, spatial packing is a limiting factor. Axon size distributions within the primate corpus callosum (CC) may provide insights into how these demands affect conduction velocity. We used electron microscopy to explore phylogenetic variation in myelinated axon density and diameter of the CC from 14 different anthropoid primate species, including humans. The majority of axons were less than 1 µm in diameter across all species, indicating that conduction velocity for most interhemispheric communication is relatively constant regardless of brain size. The largest axons within the upper 95th percentile scaled with a progressively higher exponent than the median axons towards the posterior region of the CC. While brain mass among the primates in our analysis varied by 97-fold, estimates of the fastest cross-brain conduction times, as conveyed by axons at the 95th percentile, varied within a relatively narrow range between 3 and 9 ms across species, whereas cross-brain conduction times for the median axon diameters differed more substantially between 11 and 38 ms. Nonetheless, for both size classes of axons, an increase in diameter does not entirely compensate for the delay in interhemispheric transmission time that accompanies larger brain size. Such biophysical constraints on the processing speed of axons conveyed by the CC may play an important role in the evolution of hemispheric asymmetry.
conduction velocity; axons; interhemispheric communication; corpus callosum
Although behavioral lateralization is known to correlate with certain aspects of brain asymmetry in primates, there are limited data concerning hemispheric biases in the microstructure of the neocortex. In the present study, we investigated whether there is asymmetry in synaptophysin-immunoreactive puncta density and protein expression levels in the region of hand representation of the primary motor cortex in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Synaptophysin is a presynaptic vesicle-associated protein found in nearly all synapses of the central nervous system. We also tested whether there is a relationship between hand preference on a coordinated bimanual task and the interhemispheric distribution of synaptophysin as measured by both stereologic counts of immunoreactive puncta and by Western blotting. Our results demonstrated that synaptophysin-immunoreactive puncta density is not asymmetric at the population level, whereas synaptophysin protein expression levels are significantly higher in the right hemisphere. Handedness was correlated with interindividual variation in synaptophysin-immunoreactive puncta density. As a group, left-handed and ambidextrous chimpanzees showed a rightward bias in puncta density. In contrast, puncta densities were symmetrical in right-handed chimpanzees. These findings support the conclusion that synapse asymmetry is modulated by lateralization of skilled motor behavior in chimpanzees.
asymmetry; handedness; plasticity; primary motor cortex; synapse
In this study, we describe an atypical neuroanatomical feature present in several primate species that involves a fusion between the temporal lobe (often including Heschl’s gyrus in great apes) and the posterior dorsal insula, such that a portion of insular cortex forms an isolated pocket medial to the Sylvian fissure. We assessed the frequency of this fusion in 56 primate species (including apes, Old World monkeys, New World monkeys, and strepsirrhines) using either magnetic resonance images or histological sections. A fusion between temporal cortex and posterior insula was present in 22 species (7 apes, 2 Old World monkeys, 4 New World monkeys, and 9 strepsirrhines). The temporo-insular fusion was observed in most eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei and G. b. graueri) specimens (62% and 100% of cases, respectively) but less frequently in other great apes and was never found in humans. We further explored the histology of this fusion in eastern gorillas by examining the cyto- and myeloarchitecture within this region, and observed that the degree to which deep cortical layers and white matter are incorporated into the fusion varies among individuals within a species. We suggest that fusion between temporal and insular cortex is an example of a relatively rare neuroanatomical feature that has become more common in eastern gorillas, possibly as the result of a population bottleneck effect. Characterizing the phylogenetic distribution of this morphology highlights a derived feature of these great apes.
cerebral cortex; cortical fusion; auditory cortex; ape
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.
minicolumn; evolution; comparative neuroanatomy; biological anthropology
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.
area 10; dendrites; evolution; Golgi; primate cerebral cortex
We examined the distribution of neurons immunoreactive for neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the posterior part of the superior temporal cortex (Brodmann's area 22 or area Tpt) of humans and nonhuman haplorrhine primates. NPY has been implicated in learning and memory and the density of NPY-expressing cortical neurons and axons is reduced in depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease. Due to the role that NPY plays in both cognition and neurodegenerative diseases, we tested the hypothesis that the density of cortical and interstitial neurons expressing NPY was increased in humans relative to other primate species. The study sample included great apes (chimpanzee and gorilla), Old World monkeys (pigtailed macaque, moor macaque, and baboon) and New World monkeys (squirrel monkey and capuchin). Stereologic methods were used to estimate the density of NPY-immunoreactive (-ir) neurons in layers I-VI of area Tpt and the subjacent white matter. Adjacent Nissl-stained sections were used to calculate local densities of all neurons. The ratio of NPY-ir neurons to total neurons within area Tpt and the total density of NPY-ir neurons within the white matter were compared among species. Overall, NPY-ir neurons represented only an average of 0.006% of the total neuron population. While there were significant differences among species, phylogenetic trends in NPY-ir neuron distributions were not observed and humans did not differ from other primates. However, variation among species warrants further investigation into the distribution of this neuromodulator system.
Wernicke's area; area Tpt; area 22; evolution; NPY
Neuropeptide Y (NPY) plays a role in a variety of basic physiological functions and has also been implicated in regulating cognition, including learning and memory. A decrease in neocortical NPY has been reported for Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, potentially contributing to associated cognitive deficits. The goal of the present analysis was to examine variation in neocortical NPY-immunoreactive axon and varicosity density among haplorhine primates (monkeys, apes, and humans). Stereologic methods were used to measure the ratios of NPY-expressing axon length density to total neuron density (ALv/Nv) and NPY-immunoreactive varicosity density to neuron density (Vv/Nv), as well as the mean varicosity spacing in neocortical areas 10, 24, 44, and 22 (Tpt) of humans, African great apes, New World monkeys, and Old World monkeys. Humans and great apes showed increased cortical NPY innervation relative to monkey species for ALv/Nv and Vv/Nv. Furthermore, humans and great apes displayed a conserved pattern of varicosity spacing across cortical areas and layers, with no differences between cortical layers or among cortical areas. These phylogenetic differences may be related to shared life history variables and may reflect specific cognitive abilities.
NPY; Broca's area; Wernicke's area; primate evolution
Increased connectivity of higher-order association regions in the neocortex has been proposed as a defining feature of human brain evolution. At present, however, there are limited comparative data to examine this claim fully. We tested the hypothesis that the distribution of neuropil across areas of the neocortex of humans differs from that of one of our closest living relatives, the common chimpanzee. The neuropil provides a proxy measure of total connectivity within a local region because it is comprised mostly of dendrites, axons, and synapses. Using image analysis techniques, we quantified the neuropil fraction from both hemispheres in six cytoarchitectonically defined regions including frontopolar cortex (area 10), Broca’s area (area 45), frontoinsular cortex (area FI), primary motor cortex (area 4), primary auditory cortex (area 41/42), and the planum temporale (area 22). Our results demonstrate that humans exhibit a unique distribution of neuropil in the neocortex compared to chimpanzees. In particular, the human frontopolar cortex and the frontoinsular cortex had a significantly higher neuropil fraction than the other areas. In chimpanzees these prefrontal regions did not display significantly more neuropil, but the primary auditory cortex had a lower neuropil fraction than other areas. Our results support the conclusion that enhanced connectivity in the prefrontal cortex accompanied the evolution of the human brain. These species differences in neuropil distribution may offer insight into the neural basis of human cognition, reflecting enhancement of the integrative capacity of the prefrontal cortex.
cytoarchitecture; evolution; brain; asymmetry
Von Economo neurons (VENs) are defined by their thin, elongated cell body and long dendrites projecting from apical and basal ends. These distinctive neurons are mostly present in anterior cingulate (ACC) and fronto-insular (FI) cortex, with particularly high densities in cetaceans, elephants, and hominoid primates (i.e., humans and apes). This distribution suggests that VENs contribute to specializations of neural circuits in species that share both large brain size and complex social cognition, possibly representing an adaptation to rapidly relay socially-relevant information over long distances across the brain. Recent evidence indicates that unique patterns of protein expression may also characterize VENs, particularly involving molecules that are known to regulate gut and immune function. In this study, we used quantitative stereologic methods to examine the expression of three such proteins that are localized in VENs – activating-transcription factor 3 (ATF3), interleukin 4 receptor (IL4Rα) and neuromedin B (NMB). We quantified immunoreactivity against these proteins in different morphological classes of ACC layer V neurons of hominoids. Among the different neuron types analyzed (pyramidal, VEN, fork, enveloping, and other multipolar), VENs showed the greatest percentage that displayed immunostaining. Additionally, a higher proportion of VENs in humans were immunoreactive to ATF3, IL4Rα, and NMB than in other apes. No other ACC layer V neuron type displayed a significant species difference in the percentage of immunoreactive neurons. These findings demonstrate that phylogenetic variation exists in the protein expression profile of VENs, suggesting that humans might have evolved biochemical specializations for enhanced interoceptive sensitivity.
brain; evolution; ape; human; neuron
In this study, we assessed the possibility that humans differ from other primate species in the supply of dopamine to the frontal cortex. To this end, quantitative comparative analyses were performed among humans, chimpanzees, and macaques using immunohistochemical methods to visualize tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive axons within the cerebral cortex. Axon densities and neuron densities were quantified using computer-assisted stereology. Areas 9 and 32 were chosen for evaluation due to their roles in higher-order executive functions and theory of mind, respectively. Primary motor cortex (area 4) was also evaluated because it is not directly associated with cognition. We did not find an overt quantitative increase in cortical dopaminergic innervation in humans relative to the other primates examined. However, several differences in cortical dopaminergic innervation were observed among species which may have functional implications. Specifically, humans exhibited a sublaminar pattern of innervation in layer I of areas 9 and 32 that differed from that of macaques and chimpanzees. Analysis of axon length density to neuron density among species revealed that humans and chimpanzees together deviated from macaques in having increased dopaminergic afferents in layers III and V/VI of areas 9 and 32, but there were no phylogenetic differences in area 4. Finally, morphological specializations of axon coils that may be indicative of cortical plasticity events were observed in humans and chimpanzees, but not macaques. Our findings suggest significant modifications of dopamine’s role in cortical organization occurred in the evolution of the apes, with further changes in the descent of humans.
tyrosine hydroxylase; prefrontal cortex; area 9; area 32; area 4; human evolution
Human language is distinctive compared with the communication systems of other species. Yet, several questions concerning its emergence and evolution remain unresolved. As a means of evaluating the neuroanatomical changes relevant to language that accompanied divergence from the last common ancestor of chimpanzees, bonobos and humans, we defined the cytoarchitectonic boundaries of area Tpt, a component of Wernicke's area, in 12 common chimpanzee brains and used design-based stereologic methods to estimate regional volumes, total neuron number and neuron density. In addition, we created a probabilistic map of the location of area Tpt in a template chimpanzee brain coordinate space. Our results show that chimpanzees display significant population-level leftward asymmetry of area Tpt in terms of neuron number, with volume asymmetry approaching significance. Furthermore, asymmetry in the number of neurons in area Tpt was positively correlated with asymmetry of neuron numbers in Brodmann's area 45, a component of Broca's frontal language region. Our findings support the conclusion that leftward asymmetry of Wernicke's area originated prior to the appearance of modern human language and before our divergence from the last common ancestor. Moreover, this study provides the first evidence of covariance between asymmetry of anterior and posterior cortical regions that in humans are important to language and other higher order cognitive functions.
cytoarchitecture; chimpanzee; evolution; Wernicke's area; asymmetry
Inhibitory interneurons participate in local processing circuits, playing a central role in executive cognitive functions of the prefrontal cortex. Although humans differ from other primates in a number of cognitive domains, it is not currently known whether the interneuron system has changed in the course of primate evolution leading to our species. In this study, we examined the distribution of different interneuron subtypes in the prefrontal cortex of anthropoid primates as revealed by immunohistochemistry against the calcium-binding proteins calbindin, calretinin and parvalbumin. In addition, we tested whether genes involved in the specification, differentiation and migration of interneurons show evidence of positive selection in the evolution of humans. Our findings demonstrate that cellular distributions of interneuron subtypes in human prefrontal cortex are similar to other anthropoid primates and can be explained by general scaling rules. Furthermore, genes underlying interneuron development are highly conserved at the amino acid level in primate evolution. Taken together, these results suggest that the prefrontal cortex in humans retains a similar inhibitory circuitry to that in closely related primates, even though it performs functional operations that are unique to our species. Thus, it is likely that other significant modifications to the connectivity and molecular biology of the prefrontal cortex were overlaid on this conserved interneuron architecture in the course of human evolution.
language; theory of mind; prefrontal cortex; chimpanzee; great ape
Neural changes that occurred during human evolution to support language are poorly understood. As a basis of comparison to humans, we used design-based stereological methods to estimate volumes, total neuron numbers, and neuron densities in Brodmann's areas 44 and 45 in both cerebral hemispheres of 12 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), one of our species’ closest living relatives. We found that the degree of interindividual variation in the topographic location and quantitative cytoarchitecture of areas 44 and 45 in chimpanzees was comparable to that seen in humans from previous studies. However, in contrast to the documented asymmetries in humans, we did not find significant population-level hemispheric asymmetry for any measures of areas 44 and 45 in chimpanzees. Furthermore, there was no relationship between asymmetries of stereological data and magnetic resonance imaging–based measures of inferior frontal gyrus morphology or hand preference on 2 different behavioral tasks. These findings suggest that Broca's area in the left hemisphere expanded in relative size during human evolution, possibly as an adaptation for our species’ language abilities.
cytoarchitecture; evolution; great ape; handedness; stereology