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Brain, behavior and evolution  2014;83:216-230.
With the evolution of a relatively large brain size in haplorhine primates (i.e., tarsiers, monkeys, apes and humans), there have been associated changes in the molecular machinery that delivers energy to the neocortex. Here we investigated variation in lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) expression and isoenzyme composition of the neocortex and striatum in primates using quantitative Western blotting and isoenzyme analysis of total homogenates and synaptosomal fractions. Analysis of isoform expression revealed that LDH in the synaptosomal fraction from both forebrain regions shifted towards a predominance of the heart-type, aerobic isoforms, LDHB, among haplorhines as compared to strepsirrhines (i.e., lorises and lemurs), while in total homogenate of neocortex and striatum there was no significant difference in the LDH isoenzyme composition between the primate suborders. The largest increase occurred in synapse-associated LDH-B expression in the neocortex, displaying an especially remarkable elevation in the ratio of LDH-B to LDH-A in humans. The phylogenetic variation in LDH-B to LDH-A ratio was correlated with species typical brain mass, but not encephalization quotient. A significant LDHB increase in the sub-neuronal fraction from haplorhine neocortex and striatum suggests a relatively higher rate of aerobic glycolysis that is linked to synaptosomal mitochondrial metabolism. Our results indicate that there is differential composition of LDH isoenzymes and metabolism in synaptic terminals that evolved in primates to meet increased energy requirements in association with brain enlargement.
PMCID: PMC4096905  PMID: 24686273
lactate dehydrogenase; strepsirrhines; haplorhines; brain; metabolism; synaptosome
2.  Biochemical specificity of von Economo neurons in hominoids 
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.
PMCID: PMC3004764  PMID: 21140465
brain; evolution; ape; human; neuron
3.  Broca's Area Homologue in Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Probabilistic Mapping, Asymmetry, and Comparison to Humans 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2009;20(3):730-742.
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.
PMCID: PMC2820707  PMID: 19620620
cytoarchitecture; evolution; great ape; handedness; stereology
4.  Histological Asymmetries of Primary Motor Cortex Predict Handedness in Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) 
Like humans, chimpanzees display robust and consistent hand preferences during the performance of certain tasks. Although correlations have been demonstrated between gross anatomic measures of primary motor cortex asymmetry and handedness in captive chimpanzees, the relationship between histological architecture and behavioral lateralization has not yet been investigated. Therefore, we examined interhemispheric asymmetry of several different microstructural characteristics of the primary motor cortex in the region of hand representation from 18 chimpanzees tested on a coordinated bimanual task before death. At the population level our data showed leftward bias for higher layer II/III neuron density. Of note, however, there was no population-level asymmetry in the areal fraction of Nissl-stained cell bodies, a finding that differs from previous studies of this cortical region in humans. Nonetheless, we found that asymmetry in the density of layer II/III parvalbumin-immunoreactive interneurons was the best predictor of individual hand preference. These results suggest that histological asymmetries are related to handedness in chimpanzees, while overall patterns of asymmetry at the population level might differ from humans.
PMCID: PMC2680156  PMID: 17534947
primary motor cortex; handedness; interneuron; parvalbumin; brain evolution
5.  Brain organization of gorillas reflects species differences in ecology 
Gorillas include separate eastern (Gorilla beringei) and western (Gorilla gorilla) African species that diverged from each other approximately 2 million years ago. Although anatomical, genetic, behavioral, and socioecological differences have been noted among gorilla populations, little is known about variation in their brain structure. This study examines neuroanatomical variation between gorilla species using structural neuroimaging. Postmortem magnetic resonance images were obtained of brains from 18 captive western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), 15 wild mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), and 3 Grauer's gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) (both wild and captive). Stereologic methods were used to measure volumes of brain structures, including left and right frontal lobe gray and white matter, temporal lobe gray and white matter, parietal and occipital lobes gray and white matter, insular gray matter, hippocampus, striatum, thalamus, each hemisphere and the vermis of the cerebellum, and the external and extreme capsules together with the claustrum. Among the species differences, the volumes of the hippocampus and cerebellum were significantly larger in G. gorilla than G. beringei. These anatomical differences may relate to divergent ecological adaptations of the two species. Specifically, G. gorilla engage in more arboreal locomotion and thus may rely more on cerebellar circuits. In addition, they tend to eat more fruit and have larger home ranges and consequently might depend more on spatial mapping functions of the hippocampus.
PMCID: PMC4314362  PMID: 25360547
primate brain evolution; cerebellum; hippocampus
6.  Neocortical synaptophysin asymmetry and behavioral lateralization in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) 
The European journal of neuroscience  2010;31(8):1456-1464.
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.
PMCID: PMC4676573  PMID: 20384782
asymmetry; handedness; plasticity; primary motor cortex; synapse
8.  Age-Related Effects in the Neocortical Organization of Chimpanzees: Gray and White Matter Volume, Cortical Thickness, Gyrification 
NeuroImage  2014;101:59-67.
Among primates, humans exhibit the most profound degree of age-related brain volumetric decline in particular regions, such as the hippocampus and the frontal lobe. Recent studies have shown that our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, experience little to no volumetric decline in gray and white matter over the adult lifespan. However, these previous studies were limited with a small sample of chimpanzees of the most advanced ages. In the present study, we sought to further test for potential age-related decline in cortical organization in chimpanzees by expanding the sample size of aged chimpanzees. We used the BrainVisa software to measure total brain volume, gray and white matter volumes, gray matter thickness, and gyrification index in a cross-sectional sample of 219 captive chimpanzees (8-53 years old), with 38 subjects being 40 or more years of age. Mean depth and cortical fold opening of 11 major sulci of the chimpanzee brains were also measured. We found that chimpanzees showed increased gyrification with age and a cubic relationship between age and white matter volume. For the association between age and sulci depth and width, the results were mostly non-significant with the exception of one negative correlation between age and the fronto-orbital sulcus. In short, results showed that chimpanzees exhibit few age-related changes in global cortical organization, sulci folding and sulci width. These findings support previous studies and the theory that the age-related changes in the human brain is due to an extended lifespan.
PMCID: PMC4165649  PMID: 24983715
aging; chimpanzees; gray matter; white matter; cortical thickness; gyrification
9.  Laminar and neurochemical organization of the dorsal cochlear nucleus of the human, monkey, cat, and rodents 
The dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) is a brainstem structure that receives input from the auditory nerve. Many studies in a diversity of species have shown that the DCN has a laminar organization and identifiable neuron types with predictable synaptic relations to each other. In contrast, studies on the human DCN have found a less distinct laminar organization and fewer cell types, although there has been disagreement among studies in how to characterize laminar organization and which of the cell types identified in other animals are also present in humans. We have reexamined DCN organization in the human using immunohistochemistry to analyze the expression of several proteins that have been useful in delineating the neurochemical organization of other brainstem structures in humans: nonphosphorylated neurofilament protein (NPNFP), nitric oxide synthase (nNOS), and three calcium-binding proteins. The results for humans suggest a laminar organization with only two layers, and the presence of large projection neurons that are enriched in NPNFP. We did not observe evidence in humans of the inhibitory interneurons that have been described in the cat and rodent DCN. To compare humans and other animals directly we used immunohistochemistry to examine the DCN in the macaque monkey, the cat, and three rodents. We found similarities between macaque monkey and human in the expression of NPNFP and nNOS, and unexpected differences among species in the patterns of expression of the calcium-binding proteins.
PMCID: PMC4170232  PMID: 25132345
10.  Evolutionary Divergence of Gene and Protein Expression in the Brains of Humans and Chimpanzees 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2015;7(8):2276-2288.
Although transcriptomic profiling has become the standard approach for exploring molecular differences in the primate brain, very little is known about how the expression levels of gene transcripts relate to downstream protein abundance. Moreover, it is unknown whether the relationship changes depending on the brain region or species under investigation. We performed high-throughput transcriptomic (RNA-Seq) and proteomic (liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry) analyses on two regions of the human and chimpanzee brain: The anterior cingulate cortex and caudate nucleus. In both brain regions, we found a lower correlation between mRNA and protein expression levels in humans and chimpanzees than has been reported for other tissues and cell types, suggesting that the brain may engage extensive tissue-specific regulation affecting protein abundance. In both species, only a few categories of biological function exhibited strong correlations between mRNA and protein expression levels. These categories included oxidative metabolism and protein synthesis and modification, indicating that the expression levels of mRNA transcripts supporting these biological functions are more predictive of protein expression compared with other functional categories. More generally, however, the two measures of molecular expression provided strikingly divergent perspectives into differential expression between human and chimpanzee brains: mRNA comparisons revealed significant differences in neuronal communication, ion transport, and regulatory processes, whereas protein comparisons indicated differences in perception and cognition, metabolic processes, and organization of the cytoskeleton. Our results highlight the importance of examining protein expression in evolutionary analyses and call for a more thorough understanding of tissue-specific protein expression levels.
PMCID: PMC4558850  PMID: 26163674
RNA-Seq; human brain evolution; chimpanzee; transcriptome; proteome
11.  Variable temporo-insular cortex neuroanatomy in primates suggests a bottleneck effect in eastern gorillas 
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.
PMCID: PMC4195240  PMID: 23939630
cerebral cortex; cortical fusion; auditory cortex; ape
12.  Modular structure facilitates mosaic evolution of the brain in chimpanzees and humans 
Nature communications  2014;5:4469.
Different brain components can evolve in a coordinated fashion or they can show divergent evolutionary trajectories according to a mosaic pattern of variation. Understanding the relationship between these brain evolutionary patterns, which are not mutually exclusive, can be informed by the examination of intraspecific variation. Our study evaluates patterns of brain anatomical covariation in chimpanzees and humans to infer their influence on brain evolution in the hominin clade. We show that chimpanzee and human brains have a modular structure that may have facilitated mosaic evolution from their last common ancestor. Spatially adjacent regions covary with one another to the strongest degree and separated regions are more independent from each other, which might be related to a predominance of local association connectivity. Despite the undoubted importance of developmental and functional factors in determining brain morphology, we find that these constraints are subordinate to the primary effect of local spatial interactions.
PMCID: PMC4144426  PMID: 25047085
13.  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
14.  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
15.  Increased morphological asymmetry, evolvability and plasticity in human brain evolution 
The study of hominin brain evolution relies mostly on evaluation of the endocranial morphology of fossil skulls. However, only some general features of external brain morphology are evident from endocasts, and many anatomical details can be difficult or impossible to examine. In this study, we use geometric morphometric techniques to evaluate inter- and intraspecific differences in cerebral morphology in a sample of in vivo magnetic resonance imaging scans of chimpanzees and humans, with special emphasis on the study of asymmetric variation. Our study reveals that chimpanzee–human differences in cerebral morphology are mainly symmetric; by contrast, there is continuity in asymmetric variation between species, with humans showing an increased range of variation. Moreover, asymmetric variation does not appear to be the result of allometric scaling at intraspecific levels, whereas symmetric changes exhibit very slight allometric effects within each species. Our results emphasize two key properties of brain evolution in the hominine clade: first, evolution of chimpanzee and human brains (and probably their last common ancestor and related species) is not strongly morphologically constrained, thus making their brains highly evolvable and responsive to selective pressures; second, chimpanzee and, especially, human brains show high levels of fluctuating asymmetry indicative of pronounced developmental plasticity. We infer that these two characteristics can have a role in human cognitive evolution.
PMCID: PMC3652445  PMID: 23615289
chimpanzee; hominin; EvoDevo; geometric morphometrics; neuroanatomy
16.  Exceptional Evolutionary Divergence of Human Muscle and Brain Metabolomes Parallels Human Cognitive and Physical Uniqueness 
PLoS Biology  2014;12(5):e1001871.
Accelerated evolution of the human brain and muscle metabolomes reflects our unique cognitive and physical capacities.
Metabolite concentrations reflect the physiological states of tissues and cells. However, the role of metabolic changes in species evolution is currently unknown. Here, we present a study of metabolome evolution conducted in three brain regions and two non-neural tissues from humans, chimpanzees, macaque monkeys, and mice based on over 10,000 hydrophilic compounds. While chimpanzee, macaque, and mouse metabolomes diverge following the genetic distances among species, we detect remarkable acceleration of metabolome evolution in human prefrontal cortex and skeletal muscle affecting neural and energy metabolism pathways. These metabolic changes could not be attributed to environmental conditions and were confirmed against the expression of their corresponding enzymes. We further conducted muscle strength tests in humans, chimpanzees, and macaques. The results suggest that, while humans are characterized by superior cognition, their muscular performance might be markedly inferior to that of chimpanzees and macaque monkeys.
Author Summary
Physiological processes that maintain our tissues' functionality involve the generation of multiple products and intermediates known as metabolites—small molecules with a weight of less than 1,500 Daltons. Changes in concentrations of these metabolites are thought to be closely related to changes in phenotype. Here, we assessed concentrations of more than 10,000 metabolites in three brain regions and two non-neural tissues (skeletal muscle and kidney) of humans, chimpanzees, macaque monkeys, and mice using mass spectrometry-based approaches. We found that the evolution of the metabolome largely reflects genetic divergence between species and is not greatly affected by environmental factors. In the human lineage, however, we observed an exceptional acceleration of metabolome evolution in the prefrontal cortical region of the brain and in skeletal muscle. Based on additional behavioral tests, we further show that metabolic changes in human muscle seem to be paralleled by a drastic reduction in muscle strength. The observed rapid metabolic changes in brain and muscle, together with the unique human cognitive skills and low muscle performance, might reflect parallel mechanisms in human evolution.
PMCID: PMC4035273  PMID: 24866127
17.  NSF Workshop Report: Discovering General Principles of Nervous System Organization by Comparing Brain Maps across Species 
Efforts to understand nervous system structure and function have received new impetus from the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Comparative analyses can contribute to this effort by leading to the discovery of general principles of neural circuit design, information processing, and gene-structure-function relationships that are not apparent from studies on single species. We here propose to extend the comparative approach to nervous system ‘maps’ comprising molecular, anatomical, and physiological data. This research will identify which neural features are likely to generalize across species, and which are unlikely to be broadly conserved. It will also suggest causal relationships between genes, development, adult anatomy, physiology, and, ultimately, behavior. These causal hypotheses can then be tested experimentally. Finally, insights from comparative research can inspire and guide technological development. To promote this research agenda, we recommend that teams of investigators coalesce around specific research questions and select a set of ‘reference species’ to anchor their comparative analyses. These reference species should be chosen not just for practical advantages, but also with regard for their phylogenetic position, behavioral repertoire, well-annotated genome, or other strategic reasons. We envision that the nervous systems of these reference species will be mapped in more detail than those of other species. The collected data may range from the molecular to the behavioral, depending on the research question. To integrate across levels of analysis and across species, standards for data collection, annotation, archiving, and distribution must be developed and respected. To that end, it will help to form networks or consortia of researchers and centers for science, technology, and education that focus on organized data collection, distribution, and training. These activities could be supported, at least in part, through existing mechanisms at NSF, NIH, and other agencies. It will also be important to develop new integrated software and database systems for cross-species data analyses. Multidisciplinary efforts to develop such analytical tools should be supported financially. Finally, training opportunities should be created to stimulate multidisciplinary, integrative research into brain structure, function, and evolution.
PMCID: PMC4028317  PMID: 24603302
18.  Neuropeptide Y-immunoreactive neurons in the cerebral cortex of humans and other haplorrhine primates 
American journal of primatology  2012;75(5):415-424.
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.
PMCID: PMC3560302  PMID: 23042407
Wernicke's area; area Tpt; area 22; evolution; NPY
19.  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
20.  Lamination of the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus of Catarrhine Primates 
Brain, behavior and evolution  2013;81(2):93-108.
The lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of catarrhines – with the exception of gibbons – is typically described as a six-layered structure, comprised of two ventral magnocellular layers, and four dorsal parvocellular layers. The parvocellular layers of the LGN are involved in color vision. Therefore, it is hypothesized that a six-layered LGN is a shared-derived trait among catarrhines. This might suggest that in gibbons the lack of further subdivisions of the parvocellular layers is a recent change, and could be related to specializations of visual information processing in this taxon. To address these hypotheses, the lamination of the LGN was investigated in a range of catarrhine species, including several taxa not previously described, and the evolution of the LGN was reconstructed using phylogenetic information. The findings indicate that while all catarrhine species have four parvocellular leaflets, two main patterns of LGN parvocellular lamination occur: two undivided parvocellular layers in some species, and four parvocellular leaflets (with occasional subleaflets) in other species. LGN size was not found to be related to lamination pattern. Both patterns were found to occur in divergent clades, which is suggestive of homoplasy within the catarrhines in LGN morphology.
PMCID: PMC3741618  PMID: 23467282
evolution; phylogeny; catarrhines; primates; vision; lateral geniculate nucleus; parvocellular
21.  New insights into the classification and nomenclature of cortical GABAergic interneurons 
Nature reviews. Neuroscience  2013;14(3):202-216.
A systematic classification and accepted nomenclature of neuron types is much needed but is currently lacking. This article describes a possible taxonomical solution for classifying GABAergic interneurons of the cerebral cortex based on a novel, web-based interactive system that allows experts to classify neurons with pre-determined criteria. Using Bayesian analysis and clustering algorithms on the resulting data, we investigated the suitability of several anatomical terms and neuron names for cortical GABAergic interneurons. Moreover, we show that supervised classification models could automatically categorize interneurons in agreement with experts’ assignments. These results demonstrate a practical and objective approach to the naming, characterization and classification of neurons based on community consensus.
PMCID: PMC3619199  PMID: 23385869
22.  Humans and great apes share increased neocortical neuropeptide Y innervation compared to other haplorhine primates 
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.
PMCID: PMC3937817  PMID: 24616688
NPY; Broca's area; Wernicke's area; primate evolution
23.  Comparative neuronal morphology of the cerebellar cortex in afrotherians, carnivores, cetartiodactyls, and primates 
Although the basic morphological characteristics of neurons in the cerebellar cortex have been documented in several species, virtually nothing is known about the quantitative morphological characteristics of these neurons across different taxa. To that end, the present study investigated cerebellar neuronal morphology among eight different, large-brained mammalian species comprising a broad phylogenetic range: afrotherians (African elephant, Florida manatee), carnivores (Siberian tiger, clouded leopard), cetartiodactyls (humpback whale, giraffe) and primates (human, common chimpanzee). Specifically, several neuron types (e.g., stellate, basket, Lugaro, Golgi, and granule neurons; N = 317) of the cerebellar cortex were stained with a modified rapid Golgi technique and quantified on a computer-assisted microscopy system. There was a 64-fold variation in brain mass across species in our sample (from clouded leopard to the elephant) and a 103-fold variation in cerebellar volume. Most dendritic measures tended to increase with cerebellar volume. The cerebellar cortex in these species exhibited the trilaminate pattern common to all mammals. Morphologically, neuron types in the cerebellar cortex were generally consistent with those described in primates (Fox et al., 1967) and rodents (Palay and Chan-Palay, 1974), although there was substantial quantitative variation across species. In particular, Lugaro neurons in the elephant appeared to be disproportionately larger than those in other species. To explore potential quantitative differences in dendritic measures across species, MARSplines analyses were used to evaluate whether species could be differentiated from each other based on dendritic characteristics alone. Results of these analyses indicated that there were significant differences among all species in dendritic measures.
PMCID: PMC4005950  PMID: 24795574
dendrite; morphometry; Golgi method; brain evolution; cerebellum
24.  Comparative organization of the claustrum: what does structure tell us about function? 
The claustrum is a subcortical nucleus present in all placental mammals. Many anatomical studies have shown that its inputs are predominantly from the cerebral cortex and its outputs are back to the cortex. This connectivity thus suggests that the claustrum serves to amplify or facilitate information processing in the cerebral cortex. The size and the complexity of the cerebral cortex varies dramatically across species. Some species have lissencephalic brains, with few cortical areas, while others have a greatly expanded cortex and many cortical areas. This evolutionary diversity in the cerebral cortex raises several questions about the claustrum. Does its volume expand in coordination with the expansion of cortex and does it acquire new functions related to the new cortical functions? Here we survey the organization of the claustrum in animals with large brains, including great apes and cetaceans. Our data suggest that the claustrum is not always a continuous structure. In monkeys and gorillas there are a few isolated islands of cells near the main body of the nucleus. In cetaceans, however, there are many isolated cell islands. These data suggest constraints on the possible function of the claustrum. Some authors propose that the claustrum has a more global role in perception or consciousness that requires intraclaustral integration of information. These theories postulate mechanisms like gap junctions between claustral cells or a “syncytium” to mediate intraclaustral processing. The presence of discontinuities in the structure of the claustrum, present but minimal in some primates, but dramatically clear in cetaceans, argues against the proposed mechanisms of intraclaustral processing of information. The best interpretation of function, then, is that each functional subdivision of the claustrum simply contributes to the function of its cortical partner.
PMCID: PMC4079070  PMID: 25071474
gorilla; whale; dolphin; calcium-binding proteins; visual cortex

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