Has evolution given humans unique brain structures?

February 22, 2013, KU Leuven

Humans have at least two functional networks in their cerebral cortex not found in rhesus monkeys. This means that new brain networks were likely added in the course of evolution from primate ancestor to human. These findings, based on an analysis of functional brain scans, were published in a study by neurophysiologist Wim Vanduffel (KU Leuven and Harvard Medical School) in collaboration with a team of Italian and American researchers.

Our ancestors evolutionarily split from those of about 25 million years ago. Since then, areas have been added, have disappeared or have changed in function. This raises the question, 'Has evolution given humans unique brain structures?'. Scientists have entertained the idea before but conclusive evidence was lacking. By combining different research methods, we now have a first piece of evidence that could prove that humans have unique cortical brain networks.

Professor Vanduffel explains: "We did functional in humans and rhesus monkeys at rest and while watching a movie to compare both the place and the function of cortical brain networks. Even at rest, the brain is very active. Different brain areas that are active simultaneously during rest form so-called 'resting state' networks. For the most part, these resting state networks in humans and monkeys are surprisingly similar, but we found two networks unique to humans and one unique network in the monkey."

"When watching a movie, the cortex processes an enormous amount of visual and auditory information. The human-specific resting state networks react to this stimulation in a totally different way than any part of the monkey brain. This means that they also have a different function than any of the resting state networks found in the monkey. In other words, brain structures that are unique in humans are anatomically absent in the monkey and there no other brain structures in the monkey that have an analogous function. Our unique are primarily located high at the back and at the front of the cortex and are probably related to specific human cognitive abilities, such as human-specific intelligence."

The study used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans to visualise brain activity. fMRI scans map functional activity in the brain by detecting changes in blood flow. The oxygen content and the amount of blood in a given brain area vary according to a particular task, thus allowing activity to be tracked.

Explore further: Research team takes new approach to studying differences between human and monkey brains

More information: The full text of the study, "Evolutionary-Novel Functional Networks in the Human Brain?", is available on the website of The Journal of Neuroscience: www.jneurosci.org/content/33/8/3259.abstract

Related Stories

Research team takes new approach to studying differences between human and monkey brains

February 6, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- In order to provide more insight into how human and monkey brains are similar and how they’re different, a research team has taken a different approach to studying both to find out which parts of ...

Monkeys with larger friend networks have more gray matter

November 4, 2011
New research in the UK on rhesus macaque monkeys has found for the first time that if they live in larger groups they develop more gray matter in parts of the brain involved in processing information on social interactions.

Imaging the network traffic in our brains

September 18, 2012
MRI brain scans no longer just show the various regions of brain activity; nowadays the networks in the brain can now be imaged with ever greater precision. This will make functional MRI (fMRI) increasingly powerful in the ...

Recommended for you

Cognitive training helps regain a younger-working brain

January 23, 2018
Relentless cognitive decline as we age is worrisome, and it is widely thought to be an unavoidable negative aspect of normal aging. Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, however, ...

Lifting the veil on 'valence,' brain study reveals roots of desire, dislike

January 23, 2018
The amygdala is a tiny hub of emotions where in 2016 a team led by MIT neuroscientist Kay Tye found specific populations of neurons that assign good or bad feelings, or "valence," to experience. Learning to associate pleasure ...

Your brain responses to music reveal if you're a musician or not

January 23, 2018
How your brain responds to music listening can reveal whether you have received musical training, according to new Nordic research conducted in Finland (University of Jyväskylä and AMI Center) and Denmark (Aarhus University).

New neuron-like cells allow investigation into synthesis of vital cellular components

January 22, 2018
Neuron-like cells created from a readily available cell line have allowed researchers to investigate how the human brain makes a metabolic building block essential for the survival of all living organisms. A team led by researchers ...

Finding unravels nature of cognitive inflexibility in fragile X syndrome

January 22, 2018
Mice with the genetic defect that causes fragile X syndrome (FXS) learn and remember normally, but show an inability to learn new information that contradicts what they initially learned, shows a new study by a team of neuroscientists. ...

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.