Specializations of the granular prefrontal cortex of primates: implications for cognitive processing.
The biological underpinnings of human intelligence remain enigmatic. There remains the greatest confusion and controversy regarding mechanisms that enable humans to conceptualize, plan, and prioritize, and why they are set apart from other animals in their cognitive abilities. Here we demonstrate that the basic neuronal building block of the cerebral cortex, the pyramidal cell, is characterized by marked differences in structure among primate species. Moreover, comparison of the complexity of neuron structure with the size of the cortical area/region in which the cells are located revealed that trends in the granular prefrontal cortex (gPFC) were dramatically different to those in visual cortex. More specifically, pyramidal cells in the gPFC of humans had a disproportionately high number of spines. As neuron structure determines both its biophysical properties and connectivity, differences in the complexity in dendritic structure observed here endow neurons with different computational abilities. Furthermore, cortical circuits composed of neurons with distinguishable morphologies will likely be characterized by different functional capabilities. We propose that 1. circuitry in V1, V2, and gPFC within any given species differs in its functional capabilities and 2. there are dramatic differences in the functional capabilities of gPFC circuitry in different species, which are central to the different cognitive styles of primates. In particular, the highly branched, spinous neurons in the human gPFC may be a key component of human intelligence.