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1.  The influence of James and Darwin on Cajal and his research into the neuron theory and evolution of the nervous system 
In this article we discuss the influence of William James and Charles Darwin on the thoughts of Santiago Ramón y Cajal concerning the structure, plasticity, and evolution of the nervous system at the cellular level. Here we develop Cajal’s notion that neuronal theory is a necessary condition to explain the plasticity of neural connections. Although the roots of the term “plasticity” in reference to neuroscience are not completely clear, Cajal was an important figure in the propagation and popularization of its use. It is true that he carried out a large number of studies throughout his career in favor of the neuronal theory, but perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of his studies was his innovative capacity to interpret structure as being the result of evolutionary mechanisms, i.e., natural selection. This capacity would ultimately lead Cajal to the conclusion that, in relation to the histology of the nervous system, such selection occurs in the establishment of connections between cells. The present article is divided into five sections: (1) Learning and general notions of organic plasticity in the 19th century; (2) The idea of “mental” plasticity proposed by James; (3) Neuronal theory and “structural” plasticity: general considerations; (4) Evolutionary factors of the nervous system in Cajal’s work; and (5) Final considerations.
PMCID: PMC3905238  PMID: 24523676
neural plasticity; evolution of the nervous system; reticular theory; neuron theory; history of neuroscience
2.  Calretinin: from a “simple” Ca2+ buffer to a multifunctional protein implicated in many biological processes 
The hexa-EF-hand Ca2+-binding protein calretinin (CR) is predominantly expressed in specific neurons of the central and peripheral nervous system. However, CR expression is also observed in non-neuronal cells, e.g., during embryonic development and in mesothelioma cells. Of the 6 EF-hand domains, 5 are functional; the first 4 domains form 2 pairs showing high cooperativity within a pair that results in non-linear modulation of intracellular Ca2+ signals by CR. EF-hand domain 5 has a low affinity and represents the identified interaction site with CR-binding partners present in mouse cerebellar granule cells. CR binding to other targets including the pore-forming α1 subunit of the Ca2+ channel CaV2.1, as well as to huntingtin indicates additional Ca2+ sensor functions besides the well-known Ca2+-buffering functions. The absence of CR in cerebellar granule cells of CR−/− mice results in increased excitability and altered firing of Purkinje cells and promotes cerebellar 160-Hz oscillations impairing motor coordination. The putative role of CR in neuroprotection is still highly discussed. Altogether, CR emerges as a multi-functional protein also associated with development, i.e., cell proliferation, differentiation, and cell death.
PMCID: PMC3913827  PMID: 24550787
calretinin; calcium signaling; calcium sensor; calcium buffer; neuron excitability
3.  Pyramidal cells in V1 of African rodents are bigger, more branched and more spiny than those in primates 
Pyramidal cells are characterized by markedly different sized dendritic trees, branching patterns, and spine density across the cortical mantle. Moreover, pyramidal cells have been shown to differ in structure among homologous cortical areas in different species; however, most of these studies have been conducted in primates. Whilst pyramidal cells have been quantified in a few cortical areas in some other species there are, as yet, no uniform comparative data on pyramidal cell structure in a homologous cortical area among species in different Orders. Here we studied layer III pyramidal cells in V1 of three species of rodents, the greater cane rat, highveld gerbil, and four-striped mouse, by the same methodology used to sample data from layer III pyramidal cells in primates. The data reveal markedly different trends between rodents and primates: there is an appreciable increase in the size, branching complexity, and number of spines in the dendritic trees of pyramidal cells with increasing size of V1 in the brain in rodents, whereas there is relatively little difference in primates. Moreover, pyramidal cells in rodents are larger, more branched and more spinous than those in primates. For example, the dendritic trees of pyramidal cells in V1 of the adult cane rat are nearly three times larger, and have more than 10 times the number of spines in their basal dendritic trees, than those in V1 of the adult macaque (7900 and 600, respectively), which has a V1 40 times the size that of the cane rat. It remains to be determined to what extent these differences may result from development or reflect evolutionary and/or processing specializations.
PMCID: PMC3918685  PMID: 24574977
striate; cortex; dendrite; spine; Lucifer yellow
4.  Delineation of motoneuron subgroups supplying individual eye muscles in the human oculomotor nucleus 
The oculomotor nucleus (nIII) contains the motoneurons of medial, inferior, and superior recti (MR, IR, and SR), inferior oblique (IO), and levator palpebrae (LP) muscles. The delineation of motoneuron subgroups for each muscle is well-known in monkey, but not in human. We studied the transmitter inputs to human nIII and the trochlear nucleus (nIV), which innervates the superior oblique muscle (SO), to outline individual motoneuron subgroups. Parallel series of sections from human brainstems were immunostained for different markers: choline acetyltransferase combined with glutamate decarboxylase (GAD), calretinin (CR) or glycine receptor. The cytoarchitecture was visualized with cresyl violet, Gallyas staining and expression of non-phosphorylated neurofilaments. Apart from nIV, seven subgroups were delineated in nIII: the central caudal nucleus (CCN), a dorsolateral (DL), dorsomedial (DM), central (CEN), and ventral (VEN) group, the nucleus of Perlia (NP) and the non-preganglionic centrally projecting Edinger–Westphal nucleus (EWcp). DL, VEN, NP, and EWcp were characterized by a strong supply of GAD-positive terminals, in contrast to DM, CEN, and nIV. CR-positive terminals and fibers were confined to CCN, CEN, and NP. Based on location and histochemistry of the motoneuron subgroups in monkey, CEN is considered as the SR and IO motoneurons, DL and VEN as the B- and A-group of MR motoneurons, respectively, and DM as IR motoneurons. A good correlation between monkey and man is seen for the CR input, which labels only motoneurons of eye muscles participating in upgaze (SR, IO, and LP). The CCN contained LP motoneurons, and nIV those of SO. This study provides a map of the individual subgroups of motoneurons in human nIII for the first time, and suggests that NP may contain upgaze motoneurons. Surprisingly, a strong GABAergic input to human MR motoneurons was discovered, which is not seen in monkey and may indicate a functional oculomotor specialization.
PMCID: PMC3921678  PMID: 24574976
central caudal nucleus; nucleus of Perlia; extraocular muscles; motoneurons; calretinin; glycine; GABA; eye movements
5.  Cellular scaling rules for the brain of afrotherians 
Quantitative analysis of the cellular composition of rodent, primate and eulipotyphlan brains has shown that non-neuronal scaling rules are similar across these mammalian orders that diverged about 95 million years ago, and therefore appear to be conserved in evolution, while neuronal scaling rules appear to be free to vary in evolution in a clade-specific manner. Here we analyze the cellular scaling rules that apply to the brain of afrotherians, believed to be the first clade to radiate from the common eutherian ancestor. We find that afrotherians share non-neuronal scaling rules with rodents, primates and eulipotyphlans, as well as the coordinated scaling of numbers of neurons in the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. Afrotherians share with rodents and eulipotyphlans, but not with primates, the scaling of number of neurons in the cortex and in the cerebellum as a function of the number of neurons in the rest of the brain. Afrotheria also share with rodents and eulipotyphlans the neuronal scaling rules that apply to the cerebral cortex. Afrotherians share with rodents, but not with eulipotyphlans nor primates, the neuronal scaling rules that apply to the cerebellum. Importantly, the scaling of the folding index of the cerebral cortex with the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex is not shared by either afrotherians, rodents, or primates. The sharing of some neuronal scaling rules between afrotherians and rodents, and of some additional features with eulipotyphlans and primates, raise the interesting possibility that these shared characteristics applied to the common eutherian ancestor. In turn, the clade-specific characteristics that relate to the distribution of neurons along the surface of the cerebral cortex and to its degree of gyrification suggest that these characteristics compose an evolutionarily plastic suite of features that may have defined and distinguished mammalian groups in evolution.
PMCID: PMC3925844  PMID: 24596544
evolution; glia-neuron ratio; numbers of neurons; cortical expansion; gyrification
6.  Ocellar structure and neural innervation in the honeybee 
Honeybees have a visual system composed of three ocelli (simple eyes) located on the top of the head, in addition to two large compound eyes. Although experiments have been conducted to investigate the role of the ocelli within the visual system, their optical characteristics, and function remain controversial. In this study, we created three-dimensional (3-D) reconstructions of the honeybee ocelli, conducted optical measurements and filled ocellar descending neurons to assist in determining the role of ocelli in honeybees. In both the median and lateral ocelli, the ocellar retinas can be divided into dorsal and ventral parts. Using the 3-D model we were able to assess the viewing angles of the retinas. The dorsal retinas view the horizon while the ventral retinas view the sky, suggesting quite different roles in attitude control. We used the hanging drop technique to assess the spatial resolution of the retinas. The lateral ocelli have significantly higher spatial resolution compared to the median ocellus. In addition, we established which ocellar retinas provide the input to five pairs of large ocellar descending neurons. We found that four of the neuron pairs have their dendritic fields in the dorsal retinas of the lateral ocelli, while the fifth has fine dendrites in the ventral retina. One of the neuron pairs also sends very fine dendrites into the border region between the dorsal and ventral retinas of the median ocellus.
PMCID: PMC3928595  PMID: 24600354
honeybees; ocelli; descending neurons; ocellar resolution; focal length
7.  Neuronal tracing of oral nerves in a velvet worm—Implications for the evolution of the ecdysozoan brain 
As one of the closest relatives of arthropods, Onychophora plays an important role in understanding the evolution of arthropod body plans. Currently there is controversy surrounding the evolution of the brain among the ecdysozoan clades, which shows a collar-shaped, circumoral organization in cycloneuralians but a ganglionic architecture in panarthropods. Based on the innervation pattern of lip papillae surrounding the mouth, the onychophoran brain has been interpreted as a circumoral ring, suggesting that this organization is an ancestral feature of Ecdysozoa. However, this interpretation is inconsistent with other published data. To explore the evolutionary origin of the onychophoran mouth and to shed light on the evolution of the ecdysozoan brains, we analyzed the innervation pattern and morphogenesis of the oral lip papillae in the onychophoran Euperipatoides rowelli using DNA labeling, immunocytochemistry, and neuronal tracing techniques. Our morphogenetic data revealed that the seven paired and one unpaired oral lip papillae arise from three anterior-most body segments. Retrograde fills show that only the first and the third nerves supplying the lip papillae are associated with cell bodies within the brain, whereas the second nerve exclusively receives fibers from somata of peripheral neurons located in the lip papillae. According to our anterograde fills and immunocytochemical data, the first nerve supplies the anterior-most pair of lip papillae, whereas the second and the third nerves are associated with the second to fifth and second to eighth lip papillae, respectively. These data suggest that the lip papillae of E. rowelli are mainly innervated by the proto- and deutocerebrum, whereas there are only a few additional cell bodies situated posterior to the brain. According to these findings, the overall innervation pattern of the oral lip papillae in E. rowelli is incompatible with the interpretation of the onychophoran brain as a modified circumoral ring.
PMCID: PMC3935231  PMID: 24616668
Onychophora; Ecdysozoa; Cycloneuralia; central nervous system; lip papillae; mouth; arthropods
8.  Integration of stress and leptin signaling by CART producing neurons in the rodent midbrain centrally projecting Edinger-Westphal nucleus 
Leptin targets the brain to regulate feeding, neuroendocrine function and metabolism. The leptin receptor is present in hypothalamic centers controlling energy metabolism as well as in the centrally projecting Edinger–Westphal nucleus (EWcp), a region implicated in the stress response and in various aspects of stress-related behaviors. We hypothesized that the stress response by cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART)-producing EWcp-neurons would depend on the animal’s energy state. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the effects of changes in energy state (mimicked by low, normal and high leptin levels, which were achieved by 24 h fasting, normal chow and leptin injection, respectively) on the response of CART neurons in the EWcp of rats subjected or not to acute restraint stress. Our data show that leptin treatment alone significantly increases CART mRNA expression in the rat EWcp and that in leptin receptor deficient (db/db) mice, the number of CART producing neurons in this nucleus is reduced. This suggests that leptin has a stimulatory effect on the production of CART in the EWcp under non-stressed condition. Under stressed condition, however, leptin blunts stress-induced activation of EWcp neurons and decreases their CART mRNA expression. Interestingly, fasting, does not influence the stress-induced activation of EWcp-neurons, and specifically EWcp-CART neurons are not activated. These results suggest that the stress response by the EWcp depends to some degree on the animal’s energy state, a mechanism that may contribute to a better understanding of the complex interplay between obesity and stress.
PMCID: PMC3939672  PMID: 24624061
db/db mice; depression; centrally projecting Edinger–Westphal nucleus; fasting; obesity; restraint
9.  Projections from the dorsal and ventral cochlear nuclei to the medial geniculate body 
Direct projections from the cochlear nucleus (CN) to the medial geniculate body (MG) mediate a high-speed transfer of acoustic information to the auditory thalamus. Anderson etal. (2006) used anterograde tracers to label the projection from the dorsal CN (DCN) to the MG in guinea pigs. We examined this pathway with retrograde tracers. The results confirm a pathway from the DCN, originating primarily from the deep layers. Labeled cells included a few giant cells and a larger number of small cells of unknown type. Many more labeled cells were present in the ventral CN (VCN). These cells, identifiable as multipolar (stellate) or small cells, were found throughout much of the VCN. Most of the labeled cells were located contralateral to the injection site. The CN to MG pathway bypasses the inferior colliculus (IC), where most ascending auditory information is processed. Anderson etal. (2006) hypothesized that CN-MG axons are collaterals of axons that reach the IC. We tested this hypothesis by injecting different fluorescent tracers into the MG and IC and examining the CN for double-labeled cells. After injections on the same side of the brain, double-labeled cells were found in the contralateral VCN and DCN. Most double-labeled cells were in the VCN, where they accounted for up to 37% of the cells labeled by the MG injection. We conclude that projections from the CN to the MG originate from the VCN and, less so, from the DCN. A significant proportion of the cells send a collateral projection to the IC. Presumably, the collateral projections send the same information to both the MG and the IC. The results suggest that T-stellate cells of the VCN are a major source of direct projections to the auditory thalamus.
PMCID: PMC3942891  PMID: 24634646
thalamus; multipolar cells; T-stellate; magnocellular pathway; fear conditioning; lemniscal pathway; multimodal processing; collateral projections
10.  A period of structural plasticity at the axon initial segment in developing visual cortex 
Cortical networks are shaped by sensory experience and are most susceptible to modifications during critical periods characterized by enhanced plasticity at the structural and functional level. A system particularly well-studied in this context is the mammalian visual system. Plasticity has been documented for the somatodendritic compartment of neurons in detail. A neuronal microdomain not yet studied in this context is the axon initial segment (AIS) located at the proximal axon segment. It is a specific electrogenic axonal domain and the site of action potential (AP) generation. Recent studies showed that structure and function of the AIS can be dynamically regulated. Here we hypothesize that the AIS shows a dynamic regulation during maturation of the visual cortex. We therefore analyzed AIS length development from embryonic day (E) 12.5 to adulthood in mice. A tri-phasic time course of AIS length remodeling during development was observed. AIS first appeared at E14.5 and increased in length throughout the postnatal period to a peak between postnatal day (P) 10 to P15 (eyes open P13–14). Then, AIS length was reduced significantly around the beginning of the critical period for ocular dominance plasticity (CP, P21). Shortest AIS were observed at the peak of the CP (P28), followed by a moderate elongation toward the end of the CP (P35). To test if the dynamic maturation of the AIS is influenced by eye opening (onset of activity), animals were deprived of visual input before and during the CP. Deprivation for 1 week prior to eye opening did not affect AIS length development. However, deprivation from P0 to 28 and P14 to 28 resulted in AIS length distribution similar to the peak at P15. In other words, deprivation from birth prevents the transient shortening of the AIS and maintains an immature AIS length. These results are the first to suggest a dynamic maturation of the AIS in cortical neurons and point to novel mechanisms in the development of neuronal excitability.
PMCID: PMC3949221  PMID: 24653680
visual cortex; plasticity; axon initial segment; dark rearing; ankyrin-G
11.  Localization of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) and N-acyl phosphatidylethanolamine phospholipase D (NAPE-PLD) in cells expressing the Ca2+-binding proteins calbindin, calretinin, and parvalbumin in the adult rat hippocampus 
The N-acylethanolamines (NAEs), oleoylethanolamide (OEA) and palmithylethanolamide (PEA) are known to be endogenous ligands of PPARα receptors, and their presence requires the activation of a specific phospholipase D (NAPE-PLD) associated with intracellular Ca2+ fluxes. Thus, the identification of a specific population of NAPE-PLD/PPARα-containing neurons that express selective Ca2+-binding proteins (CaBPs) may provide a neuroanatomical basis to better understand the PPARα system in the brain. For this purpose, we used double-label immunofluorescence and confocal laser scanning microscopy for the characterization of the co-existence of NAPE-PLD/PPARα and the CaBPs calbindin D28k, calretinin and parvalbumin in the rat hippocampus. PPARα expression was specifically localized in the cell nucleus and, occasionally, in the cytoplasm of the principal cells (dentate granular and CA pyramidal cells) and some non-principal cells of the hippocampus. PPARα was expressed in the calbindin-containing cells of the granular cell layer of the dentate gyrus (DG) and the SP of CA1. These principal PPARα+/calbindin+ cells were closely surrounded by NAPE-PLD+ fiber varicosities. No pyramidal PPARα+/calbindin+ cells were detected in CA3. Most cells containing parvalbumin expressed both NAPE-PLD and PPARα in the principal layers of the DG and CA1/3. A small number of cells containing PPARα and calretinin was found along the hippocampus. Scattered NAPE-PLD+/calretinin+ cells were specifically detected in CA3. NAPE-PLD+ puncta surrounded the calretinin+ cells localized in the principal cells of the DG and CA1. The identification of the hippocampal subpopulations of NAPE-PLD/PPARα-containing neurons that express selective CaBPs should be considered when analyzing the role of NAEs/PPARα-signaling system in the regulation of hippocampal functions.
PMCID: PMC3955776  PMID: 24672435
PPAR alpha; NAPE-PLD; calcium-binding protein; hippocampus; rat; immunohistochemistry; confocal microscopy
12.  Distribution of nanoparticles throughout the cerebral cortex of rodents and non-human primates: Implications for gene and drug therapy 
When nanoparticles/proteins are infused into the brain, they are often transported to distal sites in a manner that is dependent both on the characteristics of the infusate and the region targeted. We have previously shown that adeno-associated virus (AAV) is disseminated within the brain by perivascular flow and also by axonal transport. Perivascular distribution usually does not depend strongly on the nature of the infusate. Many proteins, neutral liposomes and AAV particles distribute equally well by this route when infused under pressure into various parenchymal locations. In contrast, axonal transport requires receptor-mediated uptake of AAV by neurons and engagement with specific transport mechanisms previously demonstrated for other neurotropic viruses. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) represents yet another way in which brain anatomy may be exploited to distribute nanoparticles broadly in the central nervous system. In this study, we assessed the distribution and perivascular transport of nanoparticles of different sizes delivered into the parenchyma of rodents and CSF in non-human primates.
PMCID: PMC3956368  PMID: 24672434
gene delivery; AAV; liposomes; thalamo-cortico; perivascular; CSF
13.  Retrograde labeling, transduction, and genetic targeting allow cellular analysis of corticospinal motor neurons: implications in health and disease 
Corticospinal motor neurons (CSMN) have a unique ability to receive, integrate, translate, and transmit the cerebral cortex's input toward spinal cord targets and therefore act as a “spokesperson” for the initiation and modulation of voluntary movements that require cortical input. CSMN degeneration has an immense impact on motor neuron circuitry and is one of the underlying causes of numerous neurodegenerative diseases, such as primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In addition, CSMN death results in long-term paralysis in spinal cord injury patients. Detailed cellular analyses are crucial to gain a better understanding of the pathologies underlying CSMN degeneration. However, visualizing and identifying these vulnerable neuron populations in the complex and heterogeneous environment of the cerebral cortex have proved challenging. Here, we will review recent developments and current applications of novel strategies that reveal the cellular and molecular basis of CSMN health and vulnerability. Such studies hold promise for building long-term effective treatment solutions in the near future.
PMCID: PMC3972458  PMID: 24723858
corticospinal motor neuron; genetic labeling; retrograde labeling; motor neuron disease; upper motor neurons
14.  Neuronal activity (c-Fos) delineating interactions of the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia 
The cerebral cortex and basal ganglia (BG) form a neural circuit that is disrupted in disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. We found that neuronal activity (c-Fos) in the BG followed cortical activity, i.e., high in arousal state and low in sleep state. To determine if cortical activity is necessary for BG activity, we administered atropine to rats to induce a dissociative state resulting in slow-wave electroencephalography but hyperactive motor behaviors. Atropine blocked c-Fos expression in the cortex and BG, despite high c-Fos expression in the sub-cortical arousal neuronal groups and thalamus, indicating that cortical activity is required for BG activation. To identify which glutamate receptors in the BG that mediate cortical inputs, we injected ketamine [N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist] and 6-cyano-nitroquinoxaline-2, 3-dione (CNQX, a non-NMDA receptor antagonist). Systemic ketamine and CNQX administration revealed that NMDA receptors mediated subthalamic nucleus (STN) input to internal globus pallidus (GPi) and substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr), while non-NMDA receptor mediated cortical input to the STN. Both types of glutamate receptors were involved in mediating cortical input to the striatum. Dorsal striatal (caudoputamen, CPu) dopamine depletion by 6-hydroxydopamine resulted in reduced activity of the CPu, globus pallidus externa (GPe), and STN but increased activity of the GPi, SNr, and putative layer V neurons in the motor cortex. Our results reveal that the cortical activity is necessary for BG activity and clarifies the pathways and properties of the BG-cortical network and their putative role in the pathophysiology of BG disorders.
PMCID: PMC3972462  PMID: 24723855
cerebral cortex; basal ganglia; arousal; atropine; 6-hydroxydopamine; c-Fos; rat
15.  Cannabinoid, melanocortin and opioid receptor expression on DRD1 and DRD2 subpopulations in rat striatum 
The striatum harbors two neuronal populations that enable action selection. One population represents the striatonigral pathway, expresses the dopamine receptor D1 (DRD1) and promotes the execution of motor programs, while the other population represents the striatopallidal pathway, expresses the dopamine receptor D2 (DRD2) and suppresses voluntary activity. The two populations integrate distinct sensorimotor, cognitive, and emotional information streams and their combined activity enables the selection of adaptive behaviors. Characterization of these populations is critical to the understanding of their role in action selection, because it aids the identification of the molecular mechanisms that separate them. To that end, we used fluorescent in situ hybridization to quantify the percentage of striatal cells that (co)express dopaminergic receptors and receptors of the cannabinoid, melanocortin or opioid neurotransmitters systems. Our main findings are that the cannabinoid 1 receptor is equally expressed on both populations with a gradient from dorsal to ventral striatum, that the opioid receptors have a preference for expression with either the DRD1 or DRD2 and that the melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) is predominantly expressed in ventral parts of the striatum. In addition, we find that the level of MC4R expression determines its localization to either the DRD1 or the DRD2 population. Thereby, we provide insight into the sensitivity of the two dopaminoceptive populations to these neurotransmitters and progress the understanding of the mechanisms that enable action selection.
PMCID: PMC3972466  PMID: 24723856
striatum; GPCR; opioid; cannabinoid; melanocortin; dopaminergic; FISH
16.  Evolution of the human brain: when bigger is better 
Comparative studies of the brain in mammals suggest that there are general architectural principles governing its growth and evolutionary development. We are beginning to understand the geometric, biophysical and energy constraints that have governed the evolution and functional organization of the brain and its underlying neuronal network. The object of this review is to present current perspectives on primate brain evolution, especially in humans, and to examine some hypothetical organizing principles that underlie the brain's complex organization. Some of the design principles and operational modes that underlie the information processing capacity of the cerebral cortex in primates will be explored. It is shown that the development of the cortex coordinates folding with connectivity in a way that produces smaller and faster brains, then otherwise would have been possible. In view of the central importance placed on brain evolution in explaining the success of our own species, one may wonder whether there are physical limits that constrain its processing power and evolutionary potential. It will be argued that at a brain size of about 3500 cm3, corresponding to a brain volume two to three times that of modern man, the brain seems to reach its maximum processing capacity. The larger the brain grows beyond this critical size, the less efficient it will become, thus limiting any improvement in cognitive power.
PMCID: PMC3973910  PMID: 24723857
brain evolution; cerebral cortex; cortical design; neural networks; information processing; intelligence; primates; human neocortex
17.  Computing the size and number of neuronal clusters in local circuits 
The organization of connectivity in neuronal networks is fundamental to understanding the activity and function of neural networks and information processing in the brain. Recent studies show that the neocortex is not only organized in columns and layers but also, within these, into synaptically connected clusters of neurons (Ko et al., 2011; Perin et al., 2011). The recently discovered common neighbor rule, according to which the probability of any two neurons being synaptically connected grows with the number of their common neighbors, is an organizing principle for this local clustering. Here we investigated the theoretical constraints for how the spatial extent of neuronal axonal and dendritic arborization, heretofore described by morphological reach, the density of neurons and the size of the network determine cluster size and numbers within neural networks constructed according to the common neighbor rule. In the formulation we developed, morphological reach, cell density, and network size are sufficient to estimate how many neurons, on average, occur in a cluster and how many clusters exist in a given network. We find that cluster sizes do not grow indefinitely as network parameters increase, but tend to characteristic limiting values.
PMCID: PMC3575568  PMID: 23423949
data driven modeling; neuronal assemblies; layer 5 pyramidal cell; layer 2 pyramidal cell; clustering
18.  Neocortical development as an evolutionary platform for intragenomic conflict 
Embryonic development in mammals has evolved a platform for genomic conflict between mothers and embryos and, by extension, between maternal and paternal genomes. The evolutionary interests of the mother and embryo may be maximized through the promotion of sex-chromosome genes and imprinted alleles, resulting in the rapid evolution of postzygotic phenotypes preferential to either the maternal or paternal genome. In eutherian mammals, extraordinary in utero maternal investment in the brain, and neocortex especially, suggests that convergent evolution of an expanded mammalian neocortex along divergent lineages may be explained, in part, by parent-of-origin-linked gene expression arising from parent-offspring conflict. The influence of this conflict on neocortical development and evolution, however, has not been investigated at the genomic level. In this hypothesis and theory article, we provide preliminary evidence for positive selection in humans in the regions of two platforms of intragenomic conflict—chromosomes 15q11-q13 and X—and explore the potential relevance of cis-regulated imprinted domains to neocortical expansion in mammalian evolution. We present the hypothesis that maternal- and paternal-specific pressures on the developing neocortex compete intragenomically to influence neocortical expansion in mammalian evolution.
PMCID: PMC3620502  PMID: 23576960
parent-offspring conflict; evolution; neocortex; genomic imprinting; X-chromosome; development; mammals
19.  Different scaling of white matter volume, cortical connectivity, and gyrification across rodent and primate brains 
Expansion of the cortical gray matter in evolution has been accompanied by an even faster expansion of the subcortical white matter volume and by folding of the gray matter surface, events traditionally considered to occur homogeneously across mammalian species. Here we investigate how white matter expansion and cortical folding scale across species of rodents and primates as the gray matter gains neurons. We find very different scaling rules of white matter expansion across the two orders, favoring volume conservation and smaller propagation times in primates. For a similar number of cortical neurons, primates have a smaller connectivity fraction and less white matter volume than rodents; moreover, as the cortex gains neurons, there is a much faster increase in white matter volume and in its ratio to gray matter volume in rodents than in primates. Order-specific scaling of the white matter can be attributed to different scaling of average fiber caliber and neuronal connectivity in rodents and primates. Finally, cortical folding increases as different functions of the number of cortical neurons in rodents and primates, scaling faster in the latter than in the former. While the neuronal rules that govern gray and white matter scaling are different across rodents and primates, we find that they can be explained by the same unifying model, with order-specific exponents. The different scaling of the white matter has implications for the scaling of propagation time and computational capacity in evolution, and calls for a reappraisal of developmental models of cortical expansion in evolution.
PMCID: PMC3620553  PMID: 23576961
white matter; number of neurons; allometry; brain size; cortical expansion; gyrification
20.  Three-dimensional reconstruction of electron micrographs reveals intrabulbar circuit differences between accessory and main olfactory bulbs 
Three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of synaptic arrangement on a particular dendrite provides essential information regarding neuronal properties and neural microcircuits. Unconventional synapses are particularly good candidates for such steric attribution. In main and accessory olfactory bulbs (MOBs and AOBs), there are dendrodendritic reciprocal synapses (RSs) between excitatory projection neurons and inhibitory interneurons. Although the fine structure and configuration of these synapses have been investigated in MOB, their characteristics in AOB were unknown. In this study, we performed 3D AOB reconstruction using serial section transmission electron microscopy. We found numerous RSs on primary dendrites from glomeruli to mitral/tufted (MT) cell somas. These synapses formed between dendritic shafts of MT cells and large dendritic spines, or so-called gemmules, of granule (Gr) cells. This indicates that chemical signals received by a glomerulus are regulated in the primary dendrite of an MT cell before reaching its soma. In MOB, RSs are located on secondary dendrites and act as lateral and self-inhibiting following mitral cell depolarization. Our results indicate that AOB intrabulbar microcircuitry is quite different from that in the MOB.
PMCID: PMC3631763  PMID: 23626525
dendrodendritic reciprocal synapses; dendritic spines; gemmules; self-inhibition; electron microscopy
21.  Motor learning of mice lacking cerebellar Purkinje cells 
The cerebellum plays a key role in the acquisition and execution of motor tasks whose physiological foundations were postulated on Purkinje cells' long-term depression (LTD). Numerous research efforts have been focused on understanding the cerebellum as a site of learning and/or memory storage. However, the controversy on which part of the cerebellum participates in motor learning, and how the process takes place, remains unsolved. In fact, it has been suggested that cerebellar cortex, deep cerebellar nuclei, and/or their combination with some brain structures other than the cerebellum are responsible for motor learning. Different experimental approaches have been used to tackle this question (cerebellar lesions, pharmacological agonist and/or antagonist of cerebellar neurotransmitters, virus tract tracings, etc.). One of these approaches is the study of spontaneous mutations affecting the cerebellar cortex and depriving it of its main input–output organizer (i.e., the Purkinje cell). In this review, we discuss the results obtained in our laboratory in motor learning of both Lurcher (Lc/+) and tambaleante (tbl/tbl) mice as models of Purkinje-cell-devoid cerebellum.
PMCID: PMC3632800  PMID: 23630472
cerebellum; motor learning; Lurcher; tambaleante; Purkinje cells
22.  Postnatal development of cerebellar zones revealed by neurofilament heavy chain protein expression 
The cerebellum is organized into parasagittal zones that control sensory-motor behavior. Although the architecture of adult zones is well understood, very little is known about how zones emerge during development. Understanding the process of zone formation is an essential step toward unraveling how circuits are constructed to support specific behaviors. Therefore, we focused this study on postnatal development to determine the spatial and temporal changes that establish zonal patterns during circuit formation. We used a combination of wholemount and tissue section immunohistochemistry in mice to show that the cytoskeletal protein neurofilament heavy chain (NFH) is a robust marker for postnatal cerebellar zonal patterning. The patterned expression of NFH is initiated shortly after birth, and compared to the domains of several known zonal markers such as zebrin II, HSP25, neurogranin, and phospholipase Cβ4 (PLCβ4), NFH does not exhibit transient expression patterns that are typically remodeled between stages, and the adult zones do not emerge after a period of uniform expression in all lobules. Instead, we found that throughout postnatal development NFH gradually reveals distinct zones in each cerebellar lobule. The boundaries of individual NFH zones sharpen over time, as zones are refined during the second and third weeks after birth. Double labeling with neurogranin and PLCβ4 further revealed that although the postnatal expression of NFH is spatially and temporally unique, its pattern of zones respects a fundamental and well-known molecular topography in the cerebellum. The dynamics of NFH expression support the hypothesis that adult circuits are derived from an embryonic map that is refined into zones during the first 3-weeks of life.
PMCID: PMC3648691  PMID: 23675325
purkinje cells; patterning; topography; circuit; development
23.  Broca's area and its striatal and thalamic connections: a diffusion-MRI tractography study 
In the recent decades structural connectivity between Broca's area and the basal ganglia has been postulated in the literature, though no direct evidence of this connectivity has yet been presented. The current study investigates this connectivity using a novel diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) fiber tracking method in humans in vivo. Our findings suggest direct connections between sub-regions of Broca's area and the anterior one-third of the putamen, as well as the ventral anterior nucleus of the thalamus. Thus, we are the first to provide a detailed account of inferred circuitry involving basal ganglia, thalamus, and Broca's area, which would be a prerequisite to substantiate their support of language processing.
PMCID: PMC3650618  PMID: 23675324
Broca's area; basal ganglia; thalamus; diffusion-weighted imaging; connectivity
25.  Transcription factors define the neuroanatomical organization of the medullary reticular formation 
The medullary reticular formation contains large populations of inadequately described, excitatory interneurons that have been implicated in multiple homeostatic behaviors including breathing, viserosensory processing, vascular tone, and pain. Many hindbrain nuclei show a highly stereotyped pattern of localization across vertebrates suggesting a strong underlying genetic organization. Whether this is true for neurons within the reticular regions of hindbrain is unknown. Hindbrain neurons are derived from distinct developmental progenitor domains each of which expresses distinct patterns of transcription factors (TFs). These neuronal populations have distinct characteristics such as transmitter identity, migration, and connectivity suggesting developmentally expressed TFs might identify unique subpopulations of neurons within the reticular formation. A fate-mapping strategy using perinatal expression of reporter genes within Atoh1, Dbx1, Lmx1b, and Ptf1a transgenic mice coupled with immunohistochemistry (IHC) and in situ hybridization (ISH) were used to address the developmental organization of a large subset of reticular formation glutamatergic neurons. All hindbrain lineages have relatively large populations that extend the entire length of the hindbrain. Importantly, the location of neurons within each lineage was highly constrained. Lmx1b- and Dbx1- derived populations were both present in partially overlapping stripes within the reticular formation extending from dorsal to ventral brain. Within each lineage, distinct patterns of gene expression and organization were localized to specific hindbrain regions. Rostro-caudally sub-populations differ sequentially corresponding to proposed pseudo-rhombomereic boundaries. Dorsal-ventrally, sub-populations correspond to specific migratory positions. Together these data suggests the reticular formation is organized by a highly stereotyped developmental logic.
PMCID: PMC3653110  PMID: 23717265
brainstem; transcription factors; reticular formation; fate-mapping; development; rhombomeres; hindbrain

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