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
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
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
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
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
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.