The corpus callosum (CC) is the major white matter tract that connects the two cerebral hemispheres. Some have theorized that individual differences in behavioral and brain asymmetries are linked to variation in the density of axon fibers that traverse different sections of the CC. In this study, we examined whether variation in axon fiber density in the CC was associated with variation in asymmetries in the planum temporale (PT) in a sample of 20 post-mortem chimpanzee brains. We further tested for sex differences in small and large CC fiber proportions and density in the chimpanzees. We found that the distribution of small and large fibers within the CC of chimpanzees follows a similar pattern to those reported in humans. We also found that chimpanzees with larger asymmetries in the PT had fewer large fibers in the posterior portion of the CC, particularly among females. As has been reported in human brains, the findings reported here indicate that individual differences in brain asymmetries are associated with variation in interhemispheric connectivity as manifest in axon fiber density and size.
Chimpanzees; brain asymmetry; corpus callosum; axon fiber density; planum temporale
Empathy refers to the ability to perceive and share another person’s affective state. Much neuroimaging evidence suggests that observing others’ suffering and pain elicits activations of the anterior insular and the anterior cingulate cortices associated with subjective empathetic responses in the observer. However, these observations do not provide causal evidence for the respective roles of anterior insular and anterior cingulate cortices in empathetic pain. Therefore, whether these regions are ‘necessary’ for empathetic pain remains unknown. Herein, we examined the perception of others’ pain in patients with anterior insular cortex or anterior cingulate cortex lesions whose locations matched with the anterior insular cortex or anterior cingulate cortex clusters identified by a meta-analysis on neuroimaging studies of empathetic pain perception. Patients with focal anterior insular cortex lesions displayed decreased discrimination accuracy and prolonged reaction time when processing others’ pain explicitly and lacked a typical interference effect of empathetic pain on the performance of a pain-irrelevant task. In contrast, these deficits were not observed in patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions. These findings reveal that only discrete anterior insular cortex lesions, but not anterior cingulate cortex lesions, result in deficits in explicit and implicit pain perception, supporting a critical role of anterior insular cortex in empathetic pain processing. Our findings have implications for a wide range of neuropsychiatric illnesses characterized by prominent deficits in higher-level social functioning.
anterior cingulate cortex; anterior insular cortex; empathy; meta-analysis; necessity
The amyloid precursor protein (APP) plays a critical role in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathogenesis. APP is proteolytically cleaved by β- and γ-secretases to generate the amyloid β-protein (Aβ), the core protein component of senile plaques in AD. It is also cleaved by α-secretase to release the large soluble APP (sAPP) luminal domain that has been shown to exhibit trophic properties. Increasing evidence points to the development of synaptic deficits and dendritic spine loss prior to deposition of amyloid in transgenic mouse models that overexpress APP and Aβ peptides. The consequence of loss of APP, however, is unsettled. In this study, we investigated whether APP itself plays a role in regulating synaptic structure and function using an APP knock-out (APP−/−) mouse model. We examined dendritic spines in primary cultures of hippocampal neurons and CA1 neurons of hippocampus from APP−/− mice. In the cultured neurons, there was a significant decrease (~35%) in spine density in neurons derived from APP−/− mice compared to littermate control neurons that were partially restored with sAPPα-conditioned medium. In APP−/− mice in vivo, spine numbers were also significantly reduced but by a smaller magnitude (~15%). Furthermore, apical dendritic length and dendritic arborization were markedly diminished in hippocampal neurons. These abnormalities in neuronal morphology were accompanied by reduction in long-term potentiation. Strikingly, all these changes in vivo were only seen in mice that were 12-15 months in age but not in younger animals. We propose that APP, specifically sAPP, is necessary for the maintenance of dendritic integrity in the hippocampus in an age-associated manner. Finally, these age-related changes may contribute to Alzheimer’s changes independent of Aβ-mediated synaptic toxicity.
Alzheimer’s disease; amyloid precursor protein; knock-out mice; extracellular domain; soluble amyloid β; synapse
Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings and high-resolution 3D morphometric analyses of layer 3 pyramidal neurons in in vitro slices of monkey primary visual cortex (V1) and dorsolateral granular prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) revealed that neurons in these two brain areas possess highly distinctive structural and functional properties. Area V1 pyramidal neurons are much smaller than dlPFC neurons, with significantly less extensive dendritic arbors and far fewer dendritic spines. Relative to dlPFC neurons, V1 neurons have a significantly higher input resistance, depolarized resting membrane potential and higher action potential (AP) firing rates. Most V1 neurons exhibit both phasic and regular-spiking tonic AP firing patterns, while dlPFC neurons exhibit only tonic firing. Spontaneous postsynaptic currents are lower in amplitude and have faster kinetics in V1 than in dlPFC neurons, but are no different in frequency. Three-dimensional reconstructions of V1 and dlPFC neurons were incorporated into computational models containing Hodgkin-Huxley and AMPA- and GABAA-receptor gated channels. Morphology alone largely accounted for observed passive physiological properties, but led to AP firing rates that differed more than observed empirically, and to synaptic responses that opposed empirical results. Accordingly, modeling predicts that active channel conductances differ between V1 and dlPFC neurons. The unique features of V1 and dlPFC neurons are likely fundamental determinants of area-specific network behavior. The compact electrotonic arbor and increased excitability of V1 neurons support the rapid signal integration required for early processing of visual information. The greater connectivity and dendritic complexity of dlPFC neurons likely support higher level cognitive functions including working memory and planning.
Amyloid precursor protein (APP), the parent molecule to amyloid β peptide, is part of larger gene family with two mammalian homologues, amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1) and amyloid precursor-like protein 2 (APLP2). Initial knock-out studies demonstrated that while single APP family gene deletions produced relatively mild phenotypes, deficiency of APLP2 and one other member of the gene family resulted in perinatal lethality, suggesting vital roles masked by functional redundancy of the other homologues. Because of the importance of APP in Alzheimer’s disease, the vast majority of studies to date have concentrated on the neuronal functions of APP, leaving limited data on its homologues. APLP2 is of particular interest as it contains high sequence homology with APP, is processed similarly, is expressed in overlapping spatial and temporal patterns, and is obligatory for lethality when combined with deficiency of either APLP1 or APP but does not contain the toxic amyloid β sequence. Here we sought to test the role of APLP2 on neuronal structure and function using a combined approach involving in vitro and in vivo techniques in young and aged animals. Surprisingly, we found that unlike APP, APLP2 appears not to be essential for maintenance of dendritic structure, spiny density, or synaptic function. Thus, there is clear divergence in the functional redundancy between APP and APLP2.
amyloid precursor-like protein 2; amyloid precursor protein; Alzheimer’s disease; synaptic plasticity; dendritic spine; synapse
Inheritance of the ε4 allele of ApoE is the only confirmed and consistently replicated risk factor for late onset AD. ApoE is also a key ligand for LRP, a major neuronal LDL receptor. Despite the considerable converging evidence that implicates ApoE and LRP in the pathogenesis of AD, the precise mechanism by which ApoE and LRP modulate the risk for AD remains elusive. Moreover, studies investigating expression of ApoE and LRP in AD brain have reported variable and contradictory results. To overcome these inconsistencies, we studied the mRNA expression of ApoE and LRP in the postmortem brain of persons who died at different stages of dementia and AD-associated neuropathology relative to controls by qPCR and Western blotting. Clinical dementia rating scores were used as a measure of dementia severity, whereas, Braak neuropathological staging and neuritic plaque density were used as indices of the neuropathological progression of AD. ApoE and LRP mRNA expression was significantly elevated in the postmortem inferior temporal gyrus (area 20) and the hippocampus from individuals with dementia compared to those with intact cognition. In addition to their strong association with the progression of cognitive dysfunction, LRP and ApoE mRNA levels were also positively correlated with increasing neuropathological hallmarks of AD. Additionally, Western blot analysis of ApoE protein expression in the hippocampus showed that the differential expression observed at the transcriptional level is also reflected at the protein level. Given the critical role played by LRP and ApoE in Aβ and cholesterol trafficking, increased expression of LRP and ApoE may not only disrupt cholesterol homeostasis but may also contribute to some of the neurobiological features of AD, including plaque deposition.
Although possible sources and functions of the resting state networks (RSN) of the brain have been proposed, most evidence relies on circular logic and reverse inference. We propose that autonomic arousal provides an objective index of psychophysiological states during rest that may also function as a driving source of the activity and connectivity of RSN. Recording blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal using functional magnetic resonance imaging and skin conductance simultaneously during rest in human subjects, we found that the spontaneous fluctuations of BOLD signals in key nodes of RSN are associated with changes in non-specific skin conductance response, a sensitive psychophysiological index of autonomic arousal. Our findings provide evidence of an important role for the autonomic nervous system to the spontaneous activity of the brain during ‘rest’.
resting-state functional connectivity MRI; autonomic arousal; skin conductance response; interoception; consciousness
The general organization of neocortical connectivity in rhesus monkey is relatively well understood. However, mounting evidence points to an organizing principle that involves clustered synapses at the level of individual dendrites. Several synaptic plasticity studies have reported cooperative interaction between neighboring synapses on a given dendritic branch, which may potentially induce synapse clusters. Additionally, theoretical models have predicted that such cooperativity is advantageous, in that it greatly enhances a neuron’s computational repertoire. However, largely because of the lack of sufficient morphologic data, the existence of clustered synapses in neurons on a global scale has never been established. The majority of excitatory synapses are found within dendritic spines. In this study, we demonstrate that spine clusters do exist on pyramidal neurons by analyzing the three-dimensional locations of ~40,000 spines on 280 apical dendritic branches in layer III of the rhesus monkey prefrontal cortex. By using clustering algorithms and Monte Carlo simulations, we quantify the probability that the observed extent of clustering does not occur randomly. This provides a measure that tests for spine clustering on a global scale, whenever high-resolution morphologic data are available. Here we demonstrate that spine clusters occur significantly more frequently than expected by pure chance and that spine clustering is concentrated in apical terminal branches. These findings indicate that spine clustering is driven by systematic biological processes. We also found that mushroom-shaped and stubby spines are predominant in clusters on dendritic segments that display prolific clustering, independently supporting a causal link between spine morphology and synaptic clustering.
clustering; dendritic spines; plasticity; morphology; image analysis
While early 1990s reports showed the phosphorylation pattern of fetal tau protein to be similar to that of tau in paired helical filaments (PHF) in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), neither the molecular mechanisms of the transient developmental hyperphosphorylation of tau nor reactivation of the fetal plasticity due to re-expression of fetal protein kinases in the aging and AD human brain have been sufficiently investigated. Here, we summarize the current knowledge on fetal tau, adding new data on the specific patterns of tau protein and mRNA expression in the developing human brain as well as on change in tau phosphorylation in the perforant pathway after entorhinal cortex lesion in mice. As fetal tau isoform does not form PHF even in a highly phosphorylated state, understanding its expression and post-translational modifications represents an important avenue for future research towards the development of AD treatment and prevention.
Ageing; Brain development; Paired helical filaments-PHF; Mild cognitive impairment; Tau potein kinases; Deafferentation; Entorhinal cortex lesion
Behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) erodes complex social–emotional functions as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and frontoinsula (FI) degenerate, but the early vulnerable neuron within these regions has remained uncertain. Previously, we demonstrated selective loss of ACC von Economo neurons (VENs) in bvFTD. Unlike ACC, FI contains a second conspicuous layer 5 neuronal morphotype, the fork cell, which has not been previously examined. Here, we investigated the selectivity, disease-specificity, laterality, timing, and symptom relevance of frontoinsular VEN and fork cell loss in bvFTD. Blinded, unbiased, systematic sampling was used to quantify bilateral FI VENs, fork cells, and neighboring neurons in 7 neurologically unaffected controls (NC), 5 patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), and 9 patients with bvFTD, including 3 who died of comorbid motor neuron disease during very mild bvFTD. bvFTD showed selective FI VEN and fork cell loss compared with NC and AD, whereas in AD no significant VEN or fork cell loss was detected. Although VEN and fork cell losses in bvFTD were often asymmetric, no group-level hemispheric laterality effects were identified. Right-sided VEN and fork cell losses, however, correlated with each other and with anatomical, functional, and behavioral severity. This work identifies region-specific neuronal targets in early bvFTD.
Alzheimer's disease; behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia; fork cell; frontoinsula; von Economo neuron
Aberrations in epigenetic marks have been associated with aging of the brain while caloric restriction (CR) and upregulation of endogenous antioxidants have been suggested as tools to attenuate the aging process. We have recently observed age-related increases in levels of 5-methylcytidine (5-mC) and DNA methyltransferase 3a (Dnmt3a) in the mouse hippocampus. Most of those age-related changes in these epigenetic relevant markers were prevented by CR but not by transgenic overexpression of the endogenous antioxidant superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). As recent work has suggested a distinct role for hydroxymethylation in epigenetic regulation of gene expression in the brain, the current study investigated age-related changes of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) in the mouse hippocampus, and furthermore tested whether CR and transgenic upregulation of SOD1 affected any age-related changes in 5-hmC. Immunohistochemical analyses of 5-hmC in 12- and 24-month-old wild-type and transgenic mice overexpressing SOD1, which were kept under either a control or a calorie restricted diet, revealed an increase of 5-hmC immunoreactivity occurring with aging in the hippocampal dentate gyrus, CA3 and CA1–2 regions. Moreover, CR, but not overexpression of SOD1, prevented the age-related increase in the CA3 region. These region-specific findings indicate that the aging process in mice is connected with epigenetic changes and suggest that the beneficial actions of CR may be mediated via epigenetic mechanisms such as methylation and hydroxymethylation of DNA.
Aging; Epigenesis; Epigenetics; DNA hydroxymethylation; 5-hydroxymethylcytosine; Caloric restriction; Antioxidants; superoxide dismutase (SOD); Hippocampus
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
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.
Oligomeric β-amyloid (Aβ) has recently been linked to synaptic plasticity deficits, which play a major role in progressive cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Here we present evidence that chronic oral administration of carvedilol, a nonselective β-adrenergic receptor blocker, significantly attenuates brain oligomeric Aβ content and cognitive deterioration in two independent AD mouse models. We found that carvedilol treatment significantly improved neuronal transmission, and that this improvement was associated with the maintenance of number of the less stable “learning” thin spines in the brains of AD mice. Our novel observation that carvedilol interferes with the neuropathologic, biochemical and electrophysiological mechanisms underlying cognitive deterioration in AD supports the potential development of carvedilol as a treatment for AD.
Oligomeric Aβ; cognitive function; spatial memory; basal neuronal transmission; dendritic spine; synaptic plasticity; bioavailability
In the past few decades it has become clear that estrogen signaling plays a much larger role in modulating the cognitive centers of the brain than previously thought possible. We have developed a nonhuman primate (NHP) model to investigate the relationships between estradiol (E) and cognitive aging. Our studies of cyclical E treatment in ovariectomized (OVX) young and aged rhesus monkeys have revealed compelling cognitive and synaptic effects of E in the context of aging. Delayed response (DR), a task that is particularly dependent on integrity of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) area 46 revealed the following: 1) that young OVX rhesus monkeys perform equally well whether treated with E or vehicle (V), and 2) that aged OVX animals given E perform as well as young adults with or without E, whereas OVX V-treated aged animals display significant DR impairment. We have analyzed the structure of layer III pyramidal cells in area 46 in these same monkeys. We found both age and treatment effects on these neurons that are consistent with behavioral data. Briefly, reconstructions of pyramidal neurons in area 46 from these monkeys showed that cyclical E increased the density of small, thin spines in both young and aged monkeys. However, this effect of E was against a background of age-related loss of small, thin spines, leaving aged V-treated monkeys with a particularly low density of these highly plastic spines and vulnerable to cognitive decline. Our current interpretation is that E not only plays a critically important role in maintaining spine number, but also enables synaptic plasticity through a cyclical increase in small highly plastic spines that may be stabilized in the context of learning. Interestingly, recent studies demonstrate that chronic E is less effective at inducing spinogenesis than cyclical E. We have begun to link certain molecular attributes of excitatory synapses in area 46 to E effects and cognitive performance in these monkeys. Given the importance of synaptic estrogen receptor α (ER-α) in rat hippocampus, we focused our initial studies on synaptic ER-α in area 46. Three key findings have emerged from these studies: 1) synaptic ER-α is present in axospinous synapses in area 46; 2) it is stable across treatment and age groups (which is not the case in rat hippocampus); and 3) the abundance and distribution of synaptic ER-α is a key correlate of individual variation in cognitive performance in certain age and treatment groups. These findings have important implications for the design of hormone treatment strategies for both surgically and naturally menopausal women.
Prefrontal cortex; estrogen; aging; primate; cognition; hormone replacement therapy
Aberrant DNA methylation patterns have been linked to molecular and cellular alterations in the aging brain. Caloric restriction (CR) and upregulation of antioxidants have been proposed as interventions to prevent or delay age-related brain pathology. Previously, we have shown in large cohorts of aging mice, that age-related increases in DNA methyltransferase 3a (Dnmt3a) immunoreactivity in the mouse hippocampus were attenuated by CR, but not by overexpression of superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). Here, we investigated age-related alterations of 5-methylcytidine (5-mC), a marker of DNA methylation levels, in a hippocampal subregion-specific manner. Examination of 5-mC immunoreactivity in 12- and 24-month-old wild type (WT) mice on control diet, mice overexpressing SOD1 on control diet, wild type mice on CR, and SOD1 mice on CR, indicated an age-related increase in 5-mC immunoreactivity in the hippocampal dentate gyrus, CA3, and CA1–2 regions, which was prevented by CR but not by SOD1 overexpression. Moreover, positive correlations between 5-mC and Dnmt3a immunoreactivity were observed in the CA3 and CA1–2. These findings suggest a crucial role for DNA methylation in hippocampal aging and in the mediation of the beneficial effects of CR on aging.
Aging; Epigenesis; Epigenetics; DNA methylation; 5-methylcytidine (5-mC); Caloric restriction; Antioxidants; Superoxide dismutase (SOD); Hippocampus
The cingulate cortex frequently shows gray matter loss with age as well as gender differences in structure and function, but little is known about whether individual cingulate Brodmann areas show gender-specific patterns of age-related volume decline. This study examined age-related changes, gender differences, and the interaction of age and gender in the relative volume of cingulate gray matter in areas 25, 24, 31, 23, and 29, over seven decades of adulthood. Participants included healthy, age-matched men and women, aged 20–87 (n = 70). Main findings were: (1) The whole cingulate showed significant age-related volume declines (averaging 5.54% decline between decades, 20s–80s). Each of the five cingulate areas also showed a significant decline with age, and individual areas showed different patterns of decline across the decades: Smaller volume with age was most evident in area 31, followed by 25 and 24. (2) Women had relatively larger cingulate gray matter volume than men overall and in area 24. (3) Men and women showed different patterns of age-related volume decline in area 31, at midlife and late in life. By delineating normal gender differences and age-related morphometric changes in the cingulate cortex over seven decades of adulthood, this study improves the baseline for comparison with structural irregularities in the cingulate cortex associated with psychopathology. The Brodmann area-based approach also facilitates comparisons across studies that aim to draw inferences between age- and gender-related structural differences in the cingulate gyrus and corresponding differences in cingulate function.
Cingulate cortex; aging; gender differences; MRI; gray matter; morphometry
Spatiotemporal and recognition memory are affected by aging in humans and macaque monkeys. To investigate whether these deficits are coupled with atrophy of memory-related brain regions, T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were acquired and volumes of the cerebrum, ventricles, prefrontal cortex (PFC), calcarine cortex, hippocampus, and striatum were quantified in young and aged rhesus monkeys. Subjects were tested on a spatiotemporal memory procedure (delayed response [DR]) that requires the integrity of the PFC and a medial temporal lobe-dependent recognition memory task (delayed nonmatching to sample [DNMS]). Region of interest analyses revealed that age inversely correlated with striatal, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), and anterior cingulate cortex volumes. Hippocampal volume predicted acquisition of the DR task. Striatal volume correlated with DNMS acquisition, whereas total prefrontal gray matter, prefrontal white matter, and dlPFC volumes each predicted DNMS accuracy. A regional covariance analysis revealed that age-related volumetric changes could be captured in a distributed network that was coupled with declining performance across delays on the DNMS task. This volumetric analysis adds to growing evidence that cognitive aging in primates arises from region-specific morphometric alterations distributed across multiple memory-related brain systems, including subdivisions of the PFC.
age-related memory impairment; medial temporal lobe; MRI; prefrontal cortex; rhesus monkey
The University of Geneva brain collection was founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, it consists of 10,154 formaldehyde- or buffered formaldehyde–fixed brains obtained from the autopsies of the Department of Psychiatry and, since 1971, from the Department of Geriatrics as well. More than 100,000 paraffin-embedded blocks and 200,000 histological slides have also been collected since 1901. From the time of its creation, this collection has served as an important resource for pathological studies and clinicopathological correlations, primarily in the field of dementing illnesses and brain aging research. These materials have permitted a number of original neuropathological observations, such as the classification of Pick’s disease by Constantinidis, or the description of dyshoric angiopathy and laminar sclerosis by Morel. The large number of cases, including some very rare conditions, provides a unique resource and an opportunity for worldwide collaborations.
neuropathology; brain collection; normal aging; Alzheimer’s disease
The von Economo neurons (VENs) are large bipolar neurons located in fronto-insular cortex (FI) and anterior limbic area (LA) in great apes and humans but not in other primates. Our stereological counts of VENs in FI and LA show them to be more numerous in humans than in apes. In humans, small numbers of VENs appear the 36th week post conception, with numbers increasing during the first eight months after birth. There are significantly more VENs in the right hemisphere in postnatal brains; this may be related to asymmetries in the autonomic nervous system. VENs are also present in elephants and whales and may be a specialization related to very large brain size. The large size and simple dendritic structure of these projection neurons suggest that they rapidly send basic information from FI and LA to other parts of the brain, while slower neighboring pyramids send more detailed information. Selective destruction of VENs in early stages of fronto-temporal dementia implies that they are involved in empathy, social awareness, and self-control, consistent with evidence from functional imaging.
fronto-temporal dementia; autism; schizophrenia; empathy; disgust; self-awareness; hemispheric specialization
Attentional dysfunction is one of the most consistent findings in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the significance of such findings for the pathophysiology of autism is unclear. In this study, we investigated cellular neurochemistry with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy imaging (1H-MRS) in brain regions associated with networks subserving alerting, orienting, and executive control of attention in patients with ASD. Concentrations of cerebral N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), creatinine + phosphocreatinine, choline-containing compounds, myo-inositol (Ins) and glutamate + glutamine (Glx) were determined by 3 T 1H-MRS examinations in 14 high-functioning medication-free adults with a diagnosis of ASD and 14 age- and IQ-matched healthy controls (HC) in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), thalamus, temporoparietal junction (TPJ), and areas near or along the intraparietal sulcus (IPS). Compared to HC group, the ASD group showed significantly lower Glx concentrations in right ACC and reduced Ins in left TPJ. This study provides evidence of abnormalities in neurotransmission related to networks subserving executive control and alerting of attention, functions which have been previously implicated in ASD pathogenesis.
autism; spectroscopy; glutamate; anterior cingulate cortex; intraparietal sulcus; myo-inositol
The Cre-loxP system is widely used for making conditional alterations to the mouse genome. Cre-mediated recombination is frequently monitored using reporter lines in which Cre expression activates a reporter gene driven by a ubiquitous promoter. Given the distinct advantages of fluorescent reporters, we developed a transgenic reporter line, termed IRG, in which DsRed-Express, a red fluorescent protein (RFP) is expressed ubiquitously prior to Cre-mediated recombination and an enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) following recombination. Besides their utility for monitoring Cre-mediated recombination, we show that in IRG mice red and green native fluorescence can be imaged simultaneously in thick tissue sections by confocal microscopy allowing for complex reconstructions to be created that are suitable for analysis of neuronal morphologies as well as neurovascular interactions in brain. IRG mice should provide a versatile tool for analyzing complex cellular relationships in both neural and nonneural tissues.†
Cre recombinase; loxP; conditional gene activation; DsRed-express; red fluorescent protein; enhanced green fluorescent protein; transgenic mice
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and frontoinsular cortex (FI) have been implicated in processing information across a variety of domains, including those related to attention and emotion. However, their role in rapid information processing, for example, as required for timely processing of salient stimuli, is not well understood. Here, we designed an emotional face priming paradigm and employed functional magnetic resonance imaging to elucidate their role in these mechanisms. Target faces with either neutral or fearful emotion were briefly primed by either neutral or fearful faces, or by blank ovals. Activation in the pregenual ACC and the FI, together with other regions, such as the amygdala, were preferentially activated in response to fearful face priming, suggesting that these regions are involved in the rapid processing of salient facial emotional information.
anterior cingulate cortex; emotion; fMRI; frontoinsular cortex; priming
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
Dendrodendritic electrical signaling via gap junctions is now an accepted feature of neuronal communication in mammalian brain, whereas axodendritic and axosomatic gap junctions have rarely been described. We present ultrastructural, immunocytochemical, and dye-coupling evidence for “mixed” (electrical/chemical) synapses on both principal cells and interneurons in adult rat hippocampus. Thin-section electron microscopic images of small gap junction-like appositions were found at mossy fiber (MF) terminals on thorny excrescences of CA3 pyramidal neurons (CA3pyr), apparently forming glutamatergic mixed synapses. Lucifer Yellow injected into weakly fixed CA3pyr was detected in MF axons that contacted four injected CA3pyr, supporting gap junction-mediated coupling between those two types of principal cells. Freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling revealed diverse sizes and morphologies of connexin-36-containing gap junctions throughout hippocampus. Of 20 immunogold-labeled gap junctions, seven were large (328–1140 connexons), three of which were consistent with electrical synapses between interneurons; but nine were at axon terminal synapses, three of which were immediately adjacent to distinctive glutamate receptor-containing postsynaptic densities, forming mixed glutamatergic synapses. Four others were adjacent to small clusters of immunogold-labeled 10-nm E-face intramembrane particles, apparently representing extrasynaptic glutamate receptor particles. Gap junctions also were on spines in stratum lucidum, stratum oriens, dentate gyrus, and hilus, on both interneurons and unidentified neurons. In addition, one putative GABAergic mixed synapse was found in thin-section images of a CA3pyr, but none were found by immunogold labeling, suggesting the rarity of GABAergic mixed synapses. Cx36-containing gap junctions throughout hippocampus suggest the possibility of reciprocal modulation of electrical and chemical signals in diverse hippocampal neurons.
CA3; dentate gyrus; interneuron; pyramidal neuron; principal cell; mossy fiber; gap junction