The brain and its main anatomical subdivisions in living hominoids using magnetic resonance imaging.
Primary comparative data on the hominoid brain are scarce and major neuroanatomical differences between humans and apes have not yet been described satisfactorily, even at the gross level. Basic questions that involve the evolution of the human brain cannot be addressed adequately unless the brains of all extant hominoid species are analyzed. Contrary to the scarcity of original data, there is a rich literature on the topic of human brain evolution and several debates exist on the size of particular sectors of the brain, e.g., the frontal lobe. In this study we applied a non-invasive imaging technique (magnetic resonance) on living human, great ape and lesser ape subjects in order to investigate the overall size of the hominoid brain. The images were reconstructed in three dimensions and volumetric estimates were obtained for the brain and its main anatomical sectors, including the frontal and temporal lobes, the insula, the parieto-occipital sector and the cerebellum.A remarkable homogeneity is present in the relative size of many of the large sectors of the hominoid brain, but interspecific and intraspecific variation exists in certain parts of the brain. The human cerebellum is smaller than expected for an ape brain of human size. It is suggested that the cerebellum increased less than the cerebrum after the split of the human lineage from the African ancestral hominoid stock. In contrast, humans have a slightly larger temporal lobe and insula than expected, but differences are not statistically significant. Humans do not have a larger frontal lobe than expected for an ape brain of human size and gibbons have a relatively smaller frontal lobe than the rest of the hominoids. Given the fact that the frontal lobe in humans and great apes has similar relative size, it is parsimonious to suggest that the relative size of the whole of the frontal lobe has not changed significantly during hominid evolution in the Plio-Pleistocene.