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The Capital Region of Denmark - a part of Copenhagen University Hospital
E-pub ahead of print

Differences in frontal network anatomy across primate species

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  • Rachel L C Barrett
  • Matthew Dawson
  • Tim B Dyrby
  • Kristine Krug
  • Maurice Ptito
  • Helen D'Arceuil
  • Paula L Croxson
  • Philippa Johnson
  • Henrietta Howells
  • Stephanie J Forkel
  • Flavio Dell'Acqua
  • Marco Catani
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The frontal lobe is central to distinctive aspects of human cognition and behavior. Some comparative studies link this to a larger frontal cortex and even larger frontal white matter in humans compared with other primates, yet others dispute these findings. The discrepancies between studies could be explained by limitations of the methods used to quantify volume differences across species, especially when applied to white matter connections. In this study, we used a novel tractography approach to demonstrate that frontal lobe networks, extending within and beyond the frontal lobes, occupy 66% of total brain white matter in humans and 48% in three monkey species, Chlorocebus aethiops, Macaca mulatta and Macaca fascicularis, all male. The simian-human differences in proportional frontal tract volume were significant for projection, commissural and both intra- and interlobar association tracts. Among the long association tracts the greatest difference was found for tracts involved in motor planning, auditory memory, top-down control of sensory information, and visuospatial attention, with no significant differences in frontal limbic tracts important for emotional processing. In addition we found that a non-frontal tract, the anterior commissure, had a smaller volume fraction in humans, suggesting that the disproportionally large volume of human frontal lobe connections is accompanied by a reduction in the proportion of some non-frontal connections. These findings support a hypothesis of an overall rearrangement of brain connections during human evolution.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTTractography is a unique tool to map white matter connections in the brains of different species including humans. This study shows that humans have a greater proportion of frontal lobe connections compared with monkeys, when normalized by total brain white matter volume. In particular, tracts associated with language and higher cognitive functions are disproportionally larger in humans compared with monkeys, whereas other tracts associated with emotional processing were either the same or disproportionally smaller. This supports the hypothesis that the emergence of higher cognitive functions in humans is associated with increased extended frontal connectivity, allowing human brains more efficient cross-talk between frontal and other high order associative areas of the temporal, parietal and occipital lobe.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1650-18
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Number of pages25
ISSN2314-4262
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Jan 2020

ID: 59033715