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
Capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) are New World primates with relatively large brains for their body size. The developmental trajectories of several brain regions – including cortical white matter, frontal lobe white matter, and basal ganglia nuclei – are similar to humans. Additionally, capuchins have independently evolved several behavioral and anatomical characteristics in common with humans and chimpanzees – including complex manipulative abilities, use of tools, and the use of precision grips – making them interesting species for studies of comparative brain morphology and organization. Here we report the first investigation into the development of the corpus callosum and its regional subdivisions in capuchins. Corpus callosum development was quantified using high-resolution structural MRI images from 39 socially reared subjects (male n = 22; female n = 18) ranging in age from 4 days (infancy) – 20 years (middle adulthood). The total area of the corpus callosum and the subdivisions of the genu, rostral midbody, medial midbody, caudal midbody, and splenium were traced from the midsagittal section. Total corpus callosum area displayed significant differences across this time span and was best explained by quadratic growth. Sustained linear growth was observed in the subdivisions of the genu, rostral midbody, and splenium; sustained quadratic growth was seen in the subdivision of the medial midbody. Differences in growth were not detected in the subdivision of the caudal midbody. Females had a larger raw area of the total CC and of the medial midbody and caudal midbody throughout the lifespan. Our results indicate that capuchins show continued white matter development beyond adolescence in regions related to cognitive and motor development.
brain development; Cebus; corpus callosum
Anthropoid primates are distinguished from other mammals by having relatively large primary visual cortices (V1) and complex facial expressions. We present a comparative test of the hypothesis that facial expression processing coevolved with the expansion of V1 in anthropoids. Previously published data were analysed using phylogenetic comparative methods. The results of our study suggest a pattern of correlated evolution linking social group size, facial motor control and cortical visual processing in catarrhines, but not platyrrhines. Catarrhines that live in relatively large social groups tended to have relatively large facial motor nuclei, and relatively large primary visual cortices. We conclude that catarrhine brains are adapted for producing and processing complex facial displays.
brain evolution; facial motor nucleus; neocortex; face perception
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
The basal ganglia are subcortical structures involved in the planning, initiation and regulation of movement as well as a variety of non-motor, cognitive and affective functions. Capuchin monkeys share several important characteristics of development with humans, including a prolonged infancy and juvenile period, a long lifespan, and complex manipulative abilities. This makes capuchins important comparative models for understanding age-related neuroanatomical changes in these structures. Here we report developmental volumetric data on the three subdivisions of the basal ganglia, the caudate, putamen and globus pallidus in brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Based on a cross-sectional sample, we describe brain development in 28 brown capuchin monkeys (male n = 17, female n = 11; age range = 2 months – 20 years) using high-resolution structural MRI. We found that the raw volumes of the putamen and caudate varied significantly with age, decreasing in volume from birth through early adulthood. Notably, developmental changes did not differ between sexes. Because these observed developmental patterns are similar to humans, our results suggest that capuchin monkeys may be useful animal models for investigating neurodevelopmental disorders of the basal ganglia.
brain development; basal ganglia; Cebus
Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) has become an increasingly common method for assessing neuroanatomical asymmetries in human in vivo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Here, we employed VBM to examine asymmetries in white matter in a sample of 48 chimpanzees (15 males and 33 females). T1-weighted MRI scans were segmented into white matter using FSL and registered to a common template. The segmented volumes were then flipped in the left-right axis and registered back to the template. The mirror image white matter volumes were then subtracted from the correctly oriented volumes and voxel-by-voxel t tests were performed. Twenty-seven significant lateralized clusters were found, including 18 in the left hemisphere and 9 in the right hemisphere. Several of the asymmetries were found in regions corresponding to well-known white matter tracts including the superior longitudinal fasciculus, inferior longitudinal fasciculus and corticospinal tract.
Chimpanzees; Brain asymmetry; White matter; Language evolution
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
Facial motor nucleus volume coevolves with both social group size and primary visual cortex volume in catarrhine primates as part of a specialized neuroethological system for communication using facial expressions. Here, we examine whether facial nucleus volume also coevolves with functionally unrelated brainstem motor nuclei (trigeminal motor and hypoglossal) due to developmental constraints. Using phylogenetically informed multiple regression analyses of previously published brain component data, we demonstrate that facial nucleus volume is not correlated with the volume of other motor nuclei after controlling for medulla volume. Our results show that brainstem motor nuclei can evolve independently of other developmentally linked structures in association with specific behavioral ecological conditions. This finding provides additional support for the mosaic view of brain evolution.
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
The locus coeruleus (LC) is a dense cluster of neurons that projects axons throughout the neuroaxis and is located in the rostral pontine tegmentum extending from the level of the inferior colliculus to the motor nucleus of the trigeminal nerve. LC neurons are lost in the course of several neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. In this study, we used Nissl staining and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunoreactivity to compare the human LC with that of closely related primate species, including great and lesser apes, and macaque monkeys. TH catalyzes the initial and rate-limiting step in catecholamine biosynthesis. The number of TH-immunoreactive (TH-ir) neurons was estimated in each species using stereologic methods. In the LC of humans, the mean total number of TH-ir neurons was significantly higher compared to the other primates. Because the total number of TH-ir neurons in the LC was highly correlated with the species mean volume of the medulla oblongata, cerebellum, and neocortical gray matter, we conclude that much of the observed phylogenetic variation can be explained by anatomical scaling. Notably, the total number of LC neurons in humans was most closely predicted by the nonhuman allometric scaling relationship relative to medulla size, whereas the number of LC neurons in humans was considerably lower than predicted according to neocortex and cerebellum volume.
Locus coeruleus; non-human primates; hominids; tyrosine hydroxylase; stereology
Neocortical columns are functional and morphological units whose architecture may have been under selective evolutionary pressure in different mammalian lineages in response to encephalization and specializations of cognitive abilities. Inhibitory interneurons make a substantial contribution to the morphology and distribution of minicolumns within the cortex. In this context, we review differences in minicolumns and GABAergic interneurons among species and discuss possible implications for signaling among and within minicolumns. Furthermore, we discuss how abnormalities of both minicolumn disposition and inhibitory interneurons might be associated with neuropathological processes, such as Alzheimer's disease, autism, and schizophrenia. Specifically, we explore the possibility that phylogenetic variability in calcium-binding protein-expressing interneuron subtypes is directly related to differences in minicolumn morphology among species and might contribute to neuropathological susceptibility in humans.
calcium-binding proteins; calbindin; calretinin; parvalbumin; neuropathology; evolution
Relative to other primates, Cebus monkeys display unusually fast postnatal brain growth and motor skill development. The neonatal capuchin brain, at approximately 29–34 g, is a smaller proportion of the adult brain weight (c. 50%) than is the brain of other primates except humans and great apes. Here we describe, from a cross-sectional sample, brain development in 29 brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) using high-resolution structural magnetic resonance images, focusing on growth patterns in total brain volume, cortical gray and white matter volume, frontal lobe gray and white matter volume, and corpus callosum area. Non-linear age-related changes in total brain volume, cortical white matter volume and frontal white matter volume were detected from birth – 5 years. Sex differences in corpus callosum:brain ratio were also found, with males having a 10% smaller corpus callosum:brain ratio than females regardless of age. Female corpus callosum:brain ratio showed significant age-related related changes, whereas males did not display any significant changes across age. Sex differences were also found in cortical gray and frontal lobe gray matter volumes, with males having larger volumes than females. These findings support the conclusion that capuchins undergo rapid neurological change during the first few years of life.
Determination of whether nonhuman primates exhibit neuroanatomical asymmetries would inform our understanding of the evolution of traits in humans that show functional hemispheric dominance, including language and handedness. Here we report the first evidence of population-level asymmetries in the chimpanzee neocortex using voxel-based morphology (VBM). MRI scans of the brain were collected in a sample of 31 chimpanzees including 9 males and 22 females, and the resulting images were segmented into gray matter, white matter and CSF. Gray matter images were then co-registered to a template and these normally oriented volumes were flipped on the left-right axis to create mirror volumes. In total, significant asymmetries were found in 13 regions including several that have been described previously in great apes using traditional region-of-interest approaches. The results from this VBM analysis support previous reports of hemispheric lateralization in chimpanzees and reinforce the view that asymmetries in the central nervous system are not uniquely human.
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.
primary motor cortex; handedness; interneuron; parvalbumin; brain evolution
Cerebral asymmetries are thought to be associated with increased hemispheric specialization of function. We investigated cerebral petalias, the protrusion of one cerebral hemisphere relative to the other, and their relationship to lateralized behavior in capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Magnetic resonance images of the brain and behavioral data on a coordinated bimanual task were obtained from 13 capuchins. While a significant population-level left-frontal petalia was found, this was not related to handedness. The role of the morphologically asymmetric frontal cortex in capuchins is unclear, but may reflect developmental gradients or directional selection for various behavioral functions, such as extractive foraging or social group complexity.
Handedness; lateralized behavior; petalias; Cebus
Many electron transport chain (ETC) genes show accelerated rates of nonsynonymous nucleotide substitutions in anthropoid primate lineages, yet in non-anthropoid lineages the ETC proteins are typically highly conserved. Here, we test the hypothesis that COX5A, the ETC gene that encodes cytochrome c oxidase subunit 5A, shows a pattern of anthropoid-specific adaptive evolution, and investigate the distribution of this protein in catarrhine brains.
In a dataset comprising 29 vertebrate taxa, including representatives from all major groups of primates, there is nearly 100% conservation of the COX5A amino acid sequence among extant, non-anthropoid placental mammals. The most recent common ancestor of these species lived about 100 million years (MY) ago. In contrast, anthropoid primates show markedly elevated rates of nonsynonymous evolution. In particular, branch site tests identify five positively selected codons in anthropoids, and ancestral reconstructions infer that substitutions in these codons occurred predominantly on stem lineages (anthropoid, ape and New World monkey) and on the human terminal branch. Examination of catarrhine brain samples by immunohistochemistry characterizes for the first time COX5A protein distribution in the primate neocortex, and suggests that the protein is most abundant in the mitochondria of large-size projection neurons. Real time quantitative PCR supports previous microarray results showing COX5A is expressed in cerebral cortical tissue at a higher level in human than in chimpanzee or gorilla.
Taken together, these results suggest that both protein structural and gene regulatory changes contributed to COX5A evolution during humankind's ancestry. Furthermore, these findings are consistent with the hypothesis that adaptations in ETC genes contributed to the emergence of the energetically expensive anthropoid neocortex.
Sex differences have been reported in both overall corpus callosum area and its regional subdivisions in humans. Some have suggested this reflects a unique adaptation in humans, as similar sex differences in corpus callosum morphology have not been reported in any other species of primate examined to date. Furthermore, an association between various measurements of corpus callosum morphology and handedness has been found in humans and chimpanzees. In the current study, we report measurements of corpus callosum cross-sectional area from midsagittal MR images collected in vivo from 14 adult capuchin monkeys, 9 of which were also characterized for hand preference on a coordinated bimanual task. Adult females were found to have a significantly larger corpus callosum: brain volume ratio, rostral body, posterior midbody, isthmus, and splenium than adult males. Left-handed individuals had a larger relative overall corpus callosum area than did right-handed individuals. Additionally, a significant sex and handedness interaction was found for anterior midbody, with right-handed males having a significantly smaller area than right-handed females. These results suggest that sex and handedness influences on corpus callosum morphology are not restricted to Homo sapiens.
In comparison with other primate species, humans have an extended juvenile period during which the brain is more plastic. In the current study we sought to examine gene expression in the cerebral cortex during development in the context of this adaptive plasticity. We introduce an approach designed to discriminate genes with variable as opposed to uniform patterns of gene expression and found that greater inter-individual variance is observed among children than among adults. For the 337 transcripts that show this pattern, we found a significant overrepresentation of genes annotated to the immune system process (pFDR≅0). Moreover, genes known to be important in neuronal function, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are included among the genes more variably expressed in childhood. We propose that the developmental period of heightened childhood neuronal plasticity is characterized by more dynamic patterns of gene expression in the cerebral cortex compared to adulthood when the brain is less plastic. That an overabundance of these genes are annotated to the immune system suggests that the functions of these genes can be thought of not only in the context of antigen processing and presentation, but also in the context of nervous system development.