Neural connectivity and cortical substrates of cognition in hominoids.
Cognitive functions and information processing recruit discrete neural systems in the cortex and white matter. We tested the idea that specific regions in the cerebrum are differentially enlarged in humans and that some of the neural reorganizational events that took place during hominoid evolution were species-specific and independent of changes in absolute brain size. We used magnetic resonance images of the living brains of 10 human and 17 ape subjects to obtain volumetric estimates of regions of interest. We parcellated the white matter in the frontal and temporal lobes into two sectors, including the white matter immediately underlying the cortex (gyral white matter) and the rest of white matter (core). We outlined the dorsal, mesial, and orbital subdivisions of the frontal lobe and analyzed the relationship between cortex and gyral white matter within each subdivision. For all regions analyzed, the observed human values are as large as expected, with the exception of the gyral white matter, which is larger than expected in humans. We found that orangutans had a relatively smaller orbital sector than any other great ape species, with no overlap in individual values. We found that the relative size of the dorsal subdivision is larger in chimpanzees than in bonobos, and that the ratio of gyral white matter to cortex stands out in Pan in comparison to Gorilla and Pongo. Individual variability, possible sex differences, and hemispheric asymmetries were present not only in humans, but in apes as well. Differences in the distribution of neural connectivity and cortical sectors were identified among great ape species that share similar absolute brain sizes. Given that these regions are part of neural systems with distinct functional attributes, we suggest that the observed differences may reflect different evolutionary pressures on regulatory mechanisms of complex cognitive functions, including social cognition.