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1.  Stereological assessment of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in schizophrenia: absence of changes in neuronal and glial densities 
The prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices are implicated in schizophrenia, and many studies have assessed volume, cortical thickness, and neuronal densities or numbers in these regions. Available data however are rather conflicting and no clear cortical alteration pattern has been established. Changes in oligodendrocytes and white matter have been observed in schizophrenia, introducing a hypothesis about a myelin deficit as a key event in disease development.
We investigated the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) in 13 males with schizophrenia and 13 age- and gender-matched controls. We assessed stereologically the dACC volume, neuronal and glial densities, total neuron and glial numbers, and glia/neuron (GNI) ratios in both layers II-III and V-VI.
We observed no differences in neuronal or glial densities. No changes were observed in dACC cortical volume, total neuron numbers, and total glial numbers in schizophrenia. This contrasts with previous findings and suggests that the dACC may not undergo as severe changes in schizophrenia as is generally believed. However, we observed higher glial densities in layers V-VI than in layers II-III in both controls and patients with schizophrenia, pointing to possible layer-specific effects on oligodendrocyte distribution during development.
Using rigorous stereological methods, we demonstrate a seemingly normal cortical organization in an important neocortical area for schizophrenia, emphasizing the importance of such morphometric approaches in quantitative neuropathology. We discuss the significance of subregion- and layer-specific alterations in the development of schizophrenia, and the discrepancies between post-mortem histopathological studies and in vivo brain imaging findings in patients.
PMCID: PMC3508088  PMID: 22860626
dysmyelination; oligodendrocytes; white matter; morphology; cytoarchitecture; myelin
2.  Neuronal nucleus and cytoplasm volume deficit in children with autism and volume increase in adolescents and adults 
Characterization of the type and topography of structural changes and their alterations throughout the lifespan of individuals with autism is essential for understanding the mechanisms contributing to the autistic phenotype. The aim of this stereological study of neurons in 16 brain structures of 14 autistic and 14 control subjects from 4 to 64 years of age was to establish the course of neuronal nuclear and cytoplasmic volume changes throughout the lifespan of individuals with autism.
Our data indicate that a deficit of neuronal soma volume in children with autism is associated with deficits in the volume of the neuronal nucleus and cytoplasm. The significant deficits of neuronal nuclear and cytoplasmic volumes in 13 of 16 examined subcortical structures, archicortex, cerebellum, and brainstem in 4- to 8-year-old autistic children suggest a global nature of brain developmental abnormalities, but with region-specific differences in the severity of neuronal pathology. The observed increase in nuclear volumes in 8 of 16 structures in the autistic teenagers/young adults and decrease in nuclear volumes in 14 of 16 regions in the age-matched control subjects reveal opposite trajectories throughout the lifespan. The deficit in neuronal nuclear volumes, ranging from 7% to 42% in the 16 examined regions in children with autism, and in neuronal cytoplasmic volumes from 1% to 31%, as well as the broader range of interindividual differences for the nuclear than the cytoplasmic volume deficits, suggest a partial distinction between nuclear and cytoplasmic pathology.
The most severe deficit of both neuronal nucleus and cytoplasm volume in 4-to 8-year-old autistic children appears to be a reflection of early developmental alterations that may have a major contribution to the autistic phenotype. The broad range of functions of the affected structures implies that their developmental and age-associated abnormalities contribute not only to the diagnostic features of autism but also to the broad spectrum of clinical alterations associated with autism. Lack of clinical improvement in autistic teenagers and adults indicates that the observed increase in neuron nucleus and cytoplasm volume close to control level does not normalize brain function.
PMCID: PMC4302585  PMID: 25595448
Autism; Neuropathology; Neuron development; Nucleus volume; Cytoplasm volume
3.  Abnormal autonomic and associated brain activities during rest in autism spectrum disorder 
Brain  2014;137(1):153-171.
Autism spectrum disorders are associated with social and emotional deficits, the aetiology of which are not well understood. A growing consensus is that the autonomic nervous system serves a key role in emotional processes, by providing physiological signals essential to subjective states. We hypothesized that altered autonomic processing is related to the socio-emotional deficits in autism spectrum disorders. Here, we investigated the relationship between non-specific skin conductance response, an objective index of sympathetic neural activity, and brain fluctuations during rest in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder relative to neurotypical controls. Compared with control participants, individuals with autism spectrum disorder showed less skin conductance responses overall. They also showed weaker correlations between skin conductance responses and frontal brain regions, including the anterior cingulate and anterior insular cortices. Additionally, skin conductance responses were found to have less contribution to default mode network connectivity in individuals with autism spectrum disorders relative to controls. These results suggest that autonomic processing is altered in autism spectrum disorders, which may be related to the abnormal socio-emotional behaviours that characterize this condition.
PMCID: PMC3891443  PMID: 24424916
autism; autonomic nervous system; emotion; skin conductance; resting state
4.  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
5.  An anatomically comprehensive atlas of the adult human brain transcriptome 
Nature  2012;489(7416):391-399.
Neuroanatomically precise, genome-wide maps of transcript distributions are critical resources to complement genomic sequence data and to correlate functional and genetic brain architecture. Here we describe the generation and analysis of a transcriptional atlas of the adult human brain, comprising extensive histological analysis and comprehensive microarray profiling of ~900 neuroanatomically precise subdivisions in two individuals. Transcriptional regulation varies enormously by anatomical location, with different regions and their constituent cell types displaying robust molecular signatures that are highly conserved between individuals. Analysis of differential gene expression and gene co-expression relationships demonstrates that brain-wide variation strongly reflects the distributions of major cell classes such as neurons, oligodendrocytes, astrocytes and microglia. Local neighbourhood relationships between fine anatomical subdivisions are associated with discrete neuronal subtypes and genes involved with synaptic transmission. The neocortex displays a relatively homogeneous transcriptional pattern, but with distinct features associated selectively with primary sensorimotor cortices and with enriched frontal lobe expression. Notably, the spatial topography of the neocortex is strongly reflected in its molecular topography— the closer two cortical regions, the more similar their transcriptomes. This freely accessible online data resource forms a high-resolution transcriptional baseline for neurogenetic studies of normal and abnormal human brain function.
PMCID: PMC4243026  PMID: 22996553
Neuroscience; Genetics; Genomics; Databases
6.  Dendritic spine changes associated with normal aging 
Neuroscience  2012;251:21-32.
Given the rapid rate of population aging and the increased incidence of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases with advanced age, it is important to ascertain the determinants that result in cognitive impairment. It is also important to note that some many of the aged population exhibit ‘successful’ cognitive aging, in which cognitive impairment is minimal. One main goal of normal aging studies is to distinguish the neural changes that occur in unsuccessful (functionally impaired) subjects from those of successful (functionally unimpaired) subjects. In this review, we present some of the structural adaptations that neurons and spines undergo throughout normal aging and discuss their likely contributions to electrophysiological properties and cognition. Structural changes of neurons and dendritic spines during aging, and the functional consequences of such changes, remain poorly understood. Elucidating the structural and functional synaptic age-related changes that lead to cognitive impairment may lead to the development of drug treatments that can restore or protect neural circuits and mediate cognition and successful aging.
PMCID: PMC3654095  PMID: 23069756
7.  Anterior Insular Cortex and Emotional Awareness 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2013;521(15):3371-3388.
This paper reviews the foundation for a role of the human anterior insular cortex (AIC) in emotional awareness, defined as the conscious experience of emotions. We first introduce the neuroanatomical features of AIC and existing findings on emotional awareness. Using empathy, the awareness and understanding of other people’s emotional states, as a test case, we then present evidence to demonstrate: 1) AIC and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) are commonly coactivated as revealed by a meta-analysis, 2) AIC is functionally dissociable from ACC, 3) AIC integrates stimulus-driven and top-down information, and 4) AIC is necessary for emotional awareness. We propose a model in which AIC serves two major functions: integrating bottom-up interoceptive signals with top-down predictions to generate a current awareness state and providing descending predictions to visceral systems that provide a point of reference for autonomic reflexes. We argue that AIC is critical and necessary for emotional awareness.
PMCID: PMC3999437  PMID: 23749500
anterior insular cortex; emotional awareness; empathy; fMRI; meta-analysis; top-down; bottom-up; predictive coding
8.  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
9.  Functional Neural Correlates of Attentional Deficits in Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54035.
Although amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI; often considered a prodromal phase of Alzheimer’s disease, AD) is most recognized by its implications for decline in memory function, research suggests that deficits in attention are present early in aMCI and may be predictive of progression to AD. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine differences in the brain during the attention network test between 8 individuals with aMCI and 8 neurologically healthy, demographically matched controls. While there were no significant behavioral differences between groups for the alerting and orienting functions, patients with aMCI showed more activity in neural regions typically associated with the networks subserving these functions (e.g., temporoparietal junction and posterior parietal regions, respectively). More importantly, there were both behavioral (i.e., greater conflict effect) and corresponding neural deficits in executive control (e.g., less activation in the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices). Although based on a small number of patients, our findings suggest that deficits of attention, especially the executive control of attention, may significantly contribute to the behavioral and cognitive deficits of aMCI.
PMCID: PMC3543395  PMID: 23326568
10.  The relationship between cerebral amyloid angiopathy and cortical microinfarcts in brain ageing and Alzheimer’s disease 
Cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) represents the deposition of amyloid β protein (Aβ) in the meningeal and intracerebral vessels. It is often observed as an accompanying lesion of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or in the brain of elderly individuals even in the absence of dementia. CAA is largely age-dependent. In subjects with severe CAA a higher frequency of vascular lesions has been reported. The goal of our study was to define the frequency and distribution of CAA in a one-year autopsy population (91 cases) from the Department of Internal Medicine, Rehabilitation, and Geriatrics, Geneva.
Materials and methods
Five brain regions were examined, including the hippocampus, and the inferior temporal, frontal, parietal, and occipital cortex, using an antibody against Aβ, and simultaneously assessing the severity of AD-type pathology with Braak stages for neurofibrillary tangles identified with an anti-tau antibody. In parallel, the relationships of CAA with vascular brain lesions were established.
CAA was present in 53.8% of the studied population, even in cases without AD (50.6%). The strongest correlation was seen between CAA and age, followed by the severity of amyloid plaques deposition. Microinfarcts were more frequent in cases with CAA; however, our results did not confirm a correlation between these parameters.
The present data show that CAA plays a role in the development of microvascular lesions in the aging brain, but cannot be considered as the most important factor in this vascular pathology, suggesting that other mechanisms also contributes importantly to the pathogenesis of microvascular changes.
PMCID: PMC3637988  PMID: 23163235
amyloid angiopathy; cortical microinfarcts; Alzheimer’s disease; vascular; neuropathology; immunohistochemistry
11.  Slc25a12 disruption alters myelination and neurofilaments: A model for a hypomyelination syndrome and childhood neurodevelopmental disorders 
Biological psychiatry  2009;67(9):887-894.
SLC25A12, a susceptibility gene for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) that is mutated in a neurodevelopmental syndrome, encodes a mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carrier (AGC1). AGC1 is an important component of the malate/aspartate shuttle, a crucial system supporting oxidative phosphorylation and ATP production.
We characterized mice with a disruption of the Slc25a12 gene, followed by confirmatory in vitro studies.
Slc25a12-knockout mice, which showed no AGC1 by immunoblotting, were born normally but displayed delayed development and died around 3 weeks after birth. In P13-14 knockout brains, the brains were smaller with no obvious alteration in gross structure. However, we found a reduction in myelin basic protein (MBP)-positive fibers, consistent with a previous report. Furthermore, the neocortex of knockout mice contained abnormal neurofilamentous accumulations in neurons, suggesting defective axonal transport and/or neurodegeneration. Slice cultures prepared from knockout mice also showed a myelination defect, and reduction of Slc25a12 in rat primary oligodendrocytes led to a cellautonomous reduction in MBP expression. Myelin deficits in slice cultures from knockout mice could be reversed by administration of pyruvate, indicating that reduction in AGC1 activity leads to reduced production of aspartate/N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) and/or alterations in the NADH/NAD+ ratio, resulting in myelin defects.
Our data implicate AGC1 activity in myelination and in neuronal structure, and indicate that while loss of AGC1 leads to hypomyelination and neuronal changes, subtle alterations in AGC1 expression could affect brain development contributing to increased autism susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC4067545  PMID: 20015484
Malate/aspartate shuttle; mitochondria; N-acetyl aspartate (NAA); neuron-oligodendrocyte interactions; pyruvate
12.  Selective vulnerability of the cerebral vasculature to blast injury in a rat model of mild traumatic brain injury 
Blast-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a common cause of injury in the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. How the primary blast wave affects the brain is not well understood. The aim of the present study was to examine whether blast exposure affects the cerebral vasculature in a rodent model. We analyzed the brains of rats exposed to single or multiple (three) 74.5 kPa blast exposures, conditions that mimic a mild TBI. Rats were sacrificed 24 hours or between 6 and 10 months after exposure. Blast-induced cerebral vascular pathology was examined by a combination of light microscopy, immunohistochemistry, and electron microscopy.
We describe a selective vascular pathology that is present acutely at 24 hours after injury. The vascular pathology is found at the margins of focal shear-related injuries that, as we previously showed, typically follow the patterns of penetrating cortical vessels. However, changes in the microvasculature extend beyond the margins of such lesions. Electron microscopy revealed that microvascular pathology is found in regions of the brain with an otherwise normal neuropil. This initial injury leads to chronic changes in the microvasculature that are still evident many months after the initial blast exposure.
These studies suggest that vascular pathology may be a central mechanism in the induction of chronic blast-related injury.
PMCID: PMC4229875  PMID: 24938728
Blast; Rat; Traumatic brain injury; Vascular pathology
13.  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
14.  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
Translational neuroscience  2013;4(1):8-19.
Transgenic mouse models with knock-in (KI) expression of human mutant amyloid precursor protein (APP) and/or human presenilin 1 (PS1) may be helpful to elucidate the cellular consequences of APP and PS1 misprocessing in the aging brain. Age-related alterations in total numbers of neurons and in numbers of synaptophysin-immunoreactive presynaptic boutons (SIPB), as well as the amyloid plaque load were analyzed in the hippocampal dentate gyrus (DG), CA3, and CA1–2 of 2- and 10-month-old APPSL/PS1 homozygous KI, APPSL (expressing human mutant APP751 carrying the Swedish [K670N/M671L] and London [V717I] mutations under Thy-1 promoter), and PS1 homozygous KI mice (expressing human PS1 mutations [M233T and L235P]). APPSL/PS1 homozygous KI mice, but neither APPSL mice nor PS1 homozygous KI mice, showed substantial age-related loss of neurons (−47.2%) and SIPB (−22.6%), specifically in CA1–2. PS1 homozygous KI mice showed an age-related increase in hippocampal granule cell numbers (+37.9%). Loss of neurons and SIPB greatly exceeded the amount of local extracellular Aβ aggregation and astrocytes, whereas region-specific accumulation of intraneuronal Aβ preceded neuron and synapse loss. An age-related increase in the ratio of SIPB to neuron numbers in CA1–2 of APPSL/PS1 homozygous KI mice was suggestive of compensatory synaptic plasticity. These findings indicate a region-selectivity in intra- and extraneuronal Aβ accumulation in connection with neuron and synapse loss in the hippocampus of APPSL/PS1 homozygous KI mice.
PMCID: PMC4018205  PMID: 24829793
Alzheimer’s disease; Amyloid precursor protein; Neuron loss; Synapse loss; Hippocampus; Presenilin-1; Stereology; Image analysis
16.  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
17.  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
18.  Histone Deacetylase 2 in the Mouse Hippocampus: Attenuation of Age-Related Increase by Caloric Restriction 
Current Alzheimer research  2013;10(8):868-876.
The aging process in the hippocampus is associated with aberrant epigenetic marks, such as DNA methylation and histone tail alterations. Recent evidence suggests that caloric restriction (CR) can potentially delay the aging process, while upregulation of antioxidants may also have a beneficial effect in this respect. We have recently observed that CR attenuates age-related changes in the levels of the epigenetic molecules DNA methyltransferase 3a, 5-methylcytidine (5-mC) and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in the mouse hippocampus while overexpression of the antioxidant Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) does not. However, the impact of aging on the levels of histone-modifying enzymes such as histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2) in the hippocampus has not been studied in much detail. Here, we investigated immunoreactivity (IR) of HDAC2 in three subregions of the hippocampus (dentate gyrus, CA3 and CA1-2) of mice taken from large cohorts of aging wild-type and transgenic mice overexpressing normal human SOD1, which were kept under normal diet or CR from weaning onwards. Independent from the genotype, aging (between 12 and 24 months) increased levels of HDAC2 IR in the hippocampus. Moreover, CR prevented this age-related increase, particularly in the CA3 and CA1-2 subregions, while SOD1 overexpression did not. Quantitative image analyses showed that HDAC2 IR correlated positively with 5-mC IR while these markers were shown to colocalize in the nucleus of hippocampal cells. Together with recent literature reports, these findings suggest that altered levels of epigenetic regulatory proteins including HDAC2 regulate age-related changes in the mouse hippocampus and that CR may prevent these age-related changes.
PMCID: PMC3966721  PMID: 24093534
Aging; epigenesis; histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2); caloric restriction; hippocampus
19.  Consistent decrease in global DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation in the hippocampus of Alzheimer’s disease patients 
Neurobiology of aging  2013;34(9):2091-2099.
Epigenetic dysregulation of gene expression is thought to be critically involved in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Recent studies indicate that DNA methylation and DNA hydroxymethylation are 2 important epigenetic mechanisms that regulate gene expression in the aging brain. However, very little is known about the levels of markers of DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation in the brains of patients with AD, the cell-type specificity of putative AD-related alterations in these markers, as well as the link between epigenetic alterations and the gross pathology of AD. The present quantitative immunohistochemical study investigated the levels of the 2 most important markers of DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation, that is, 5-methylcytidine (5-mC) and 5-hydroxymethylcytidine (5-hmC), in the hippocampus of AD patients (n = 10) and compared these to non demented, age-matched controls (n = 10). In addition, the levels of 5-hmC in the hippocampus of a pair of monozygotic twins discordant for AD were assessed. The levels of 5-mC and 5-hmC were furthermore analyzed in a cell-type and hippocampal subregion–specific manner, and were correlated with amyloid plaque load and neurofibrillary tangle load. The results showed robust decreases in the hippocampal levels of 5-mC and 5-hmC in AD patients (19.6% and 20.2%, respectively). Similar results were obtained for the twin with AD when compared to the non-demented co-twin. Moreover, levels of 5-mC as well as the levels of 5-hmC showed a significant negative correlation with amyloid plaque load in the hippocampus (rp = −0.539, p = 0.021 for 5-mC and rp = −0.558, p = 0.016 for 5-hmC). These human postmortem results thus strengthen the notion that AD is associated with alterations in DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation, and provide a basis for further epigenetic studies identifying the exact genetic loci with aberrant epigenetic signatures.
PMCID: PMC3955118  PMID: 23582657
Alzheimer’s disease; Epigenetics; DNA methylation; DNA hydroxymethylation; Amyloid
20.  Genotype-independent decrease in plasma dopamine beta-hydroxylase activity in Alzheimer’s disease 
The noradrenergic system is involved in the etiology and progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) but its role is still unclear. Dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH) as a catecholamine-synthesizing enzyme plays a central role in noradrenaline (NA) synthesis and turnover. Plasma DBH (pDBH) activity shows wide inheritable interindividual variability that is under genetic control. The aim of this study was to determine pDBH activity, DBH (C-970T; rs1611115) and DBH (C1603T; rs6271) gene polymorphisms in 207 patients with AD and in 90 healthy age-matched controls. Plasma DBH activity was lower, particularly in the early stage of AD, compared to values in middle and late stages of the disease, as well as to control values. Two-way ANOVA revealed significant effect of both diagnosis and DBH (C-970T) or DBH (C1603T) genotypes on pDBH activity, but without significant diagnosis×genotype interaction. No association was found between AD and DBH C-970T (OR=1.08, 95% CI 1.13–4.37; p=0.779) and C1603T (OR=0.89; 95% CI 0.36–2.20; p=0.814) genotypes controlled for age, gender, and ApoE4 allele. The decrease in pDBH activity, found in early phase of AD suggests that alterations in DBH activity represent a compensatory mechanism for the loss of noradrenergic neurons, and that treatment with selective NA reuptake inhibitors may be indicated in early stages of AD to compensate for loss of noradrenergic activity in the locus coeruleus.
PMCID: PMC3952071  PMID: 23416088
Alzheimer’s disease; Cognitive decline; DBH gene polymorphisms; Dopamine beta-hydroxylase; Plasma DBH activity
21.  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
22.  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
The Journal of comparative neurology  2008;507(1):1141-1150.
Anatomical alterations in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are associated with hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation, altered stress hormone levels, and psychiatric symptoms of stress-related mental illnesses. Functional imaging studies reveal impairment and shrinkage of the mPFC in such conditions, and these findings are paralleled by experimental studies showing dendritic retraction and spine loss following repeated stress in rodents. Here we extend this characterization to how repeated stress affects dendritic spine morphology in mPFC through the utilization of an automated approach which rapidly digitizes, reconstructs 3-dimensionally, and calculates geometric features of neurons. Rats were perfused after being subjected to 3 weeks of daily restraint stress (6 hours/day), and intracellular injections of Lucifer Yellow were made in layers II/III pyramidal neurons in the dorsal mPFC. To reveal spines in all angles of orientation, deconvolved high-resolution confocal laser scanning microscopy image stacks of dendritic segments were reconstructed and analyzed for spine volume, surface area, and length using a Rayburst-based automated approach (8,091 and 8,987 spines for control and stress, respectively). We found that repeated stress results in an overall decrease in mean dendritic spine volume and surface area, which was most pronounced in the distal portion of apical dendritic fields. Moreover, we observed an overall shift in the population of spines, manifested by a reduction in large spines and increase in small spines. These results suggest a failure of spines to mature and stabilize following repeated stress, and are likely to have major repercussions on function, receptor expression, and synaptic efficacy.
PMCID: PMC2796421  PMID: 18157834
dendritic spine; morphometry; plasticity; prefrontal cortex; stress
24.  Stereologic estimates of total spinophilin-immunoreactive spine number in area 9 and the CA1 field: relationship with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease 
Neurobiology of aging  2007;29(9):1296-1307.
The loss of presynaptic markers is thought to represent a strong pathologic correlate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Spinophilin is a postsynaptic marker mainly located to the heads of dendritic spines. We assessed total numbers of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in the CA1 and CA3 fields of hippocampus and area 9 in 18 elderly individuals with various degrees of cognitive decline. The decrease in spinophilin-immunoreactivity was significantly related to both Braak neurofibrillary tangle (NFT) staging and clinical severity but not Aβ deposition staging. The total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in CA1 field and area 9 were significantly related to MMSE scores and predicted 23.5% and 61.9% of its variability. The relationship between total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in CA1 field and MMSE scores did not persist when adjusting for Braak NFT staging. In contrast, the total number of spinophilin-immunoreactive puncta in area 9 was still significantly related to the cognitive outcome explaining an extra 9.6% of MMSE and 25.6% of the Clinical Dementia Rating scores variability. Our data suggest that neocortical dendritic spine loss is an independent parameter to consider in AD clinicopathologic correlations.
PMCID: PMC2569870  PMID: 17420070
Alzheimer’s disease; cognition; synapses; tangles
25.  Cognition–Emotion Integration in the Anterior Insular Cortex 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2012;23(1):20-27.
Both cognitive and affective processes require mental resources. However, it remains unclear whether these 2 processes work in parallel or in an integrated fashion. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated their interaction using an empathy-for-pain paradigm, with simultaneous manipulation of cognitive demand of the tasks and emotional valence of the stimuli. Eighteen healthy adult participants viewed photographs showing other people's hands and feet in painful or nonpainful situations while performing tasks of low (body part judgment) and high (laterality judgment) cognitive demand. Behavioral data showed increased reaction times and error rates for painful compared with nonpainful stimuli under laterality judgment relative to body part judgment, indicating an interaction between cognitive demand and stimulus valence. Imaging analyses showed activity in bilateral anterior insula (AI) and primary somatosensory cortex (SI), but not posterior insula, for main effects of cognitive demand and stimulus valence. Importantly, cognitive demand and stimulus valence showed a significant interaction in AI, SI, and regions of the frontoparietal network. These results suggest that cognitive and emotional processes at least partially share common brain networks and that AI might serve as a key node in a brain network subserving cognition–emotion integration.
PMCID: PMC3513949  PMID: 22275476
cognition; emotion; empathy; fMRI; insula

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