Inhibitory interneurons of the human prefrontal cortex display conserved evolution of the phenotype and related genes.
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.