The primate neocortex in comparative perspective using magnetic resonance imaging.
In this study we use neuroanatomic data from living anthropoid primate subjects to test the following three hypotheses: (1) that the human neocortex is significantly larger than expected for a primate of our brain size, (2) that the human prefrontal cortex is significantly more convoluted than expected for our brain size, and (3) that increases in cerebral white matter volume outpace increases in neocortical gray matter volume among anthropoid primates. Whole brain MRI scans were obtained from 44 living primate subjects from 11 different species. Image analysis software was used to calculate total brain volume, neocortical gray matter volume, cerebral white matter volume, and the cross sectional area of the spinal cord in each scan. Allometric regression analyses were used to compare the relative size of these brain structures across species, with an emphasis on determining whether human brain proportions correspond with predictions based on nonhuman primate allometric trajectories. All three hypotheses were supported by our analysis. The results of this study provide additional insights into human brain evolution beyond the important observation that brain volume approximately tripled in the hominid lineage by demonstrating that the neocortex was uniquely modified throughout hominid evolution. These modifications may constitute part of the neurobiological substrate that supports some of our species most distinctive cognitive abilities.