A Caltech Library Service

The von Economo neurons in apes and humans

Allman, John M. and Tetreault, Nicole A. and Hakeem, Atiya Y. and Park, Soyoung (2011) The von Economo neurons in apes and humans. American Journal of Human Biology, 23 (1). pp. 5-21. ISSN 1042-0533. doi:10.1002/ajhb.21136.

Full text is not posted in this repository. Consult Related URLs below.

Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


The von Economo neurons (VENs) are large bipolar neurons located in frontoinsular (FI) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in great apes and humans but not other primates. We stereologically counted the VENs in FI and the limbic anterior (LA) area of ACC and found them to be more numerous in humans than in apes. In humans, VENs first appear in small numbers in the 36th week postconception are rare at birth and increase in number during the first 8 months after birth. There are significantly more VENs in the right hemisphere than the left in FI and LA in postnatal brains; this may be related to asymmetries in the autonomic nervous system. The activity of the inferior anterior insula, containing FI, is related to physiological changes in the body, decision-making, error recognition, and awareness. In a preliminary diffusion tensor imaging study of the connections of FI, we found that the VEN-containing regions connect with the frontal pole as well as with other parts of frontal and insular cortex, the septum, and the amygdala. The VENs and a related cell population, the fork cells, selectively express the bombesin peptides neuromedin B (NMB) and gastrin releasing pepide, which signal satiety. The loss of VENs and fork cells may be related to the loss of satiety signaling in patients with frontotemporal dementia who have damage to FI. These cells may be morphological specializations of an ancient population of neurons involved in the control of appetite present in the insular cortex in all mammals.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle
Additional Information:© 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc. Manuscript Accepted: 18 Oct. 2010; Manuscript Revised: 15 Oct. 2010; Manuscript Received: 17 Sep. 2010; Article first published online: 7 Dec. 2010. Contract grant sponsors: James S. McDonnell Foundation, David and Lucille Packard Foundation, Simons Foundation, "Comparative Neurobiology of Aging Resource" NIH/NIA; Contract grant number: AG14308. The authors thank Dr. Kebreten Manaye, Dr. Barbara Wold, Dr. Joseph Erwin, Dr. Chet Sherwood, Dr. Bill Seeley, Dr. Patrick Hof, and Dr. A. D. Craig for their invaluable comments and discussion. We thank Dr. Micheal Tyszka and Dr. Jason Kaufman for the MRI imaging of the ape brains. We thank Virginie Goubert for her painstaking preparation of the histological sections of many of the ape brains used in this paper. We thank Dr. Katerina Semendeferi for the use of her brain, which enabled us to expand our sample of ape and human brains. We thank Dr. Kristen Tillisch and Dr. Emeran Mayer for the MRimages for the young adult human subject. We are grateful to Dr. John Morris for his suggestion that the expression of NMB and gastrin releasing peptide in the mouse insular cortex might be related to the VENs. We thank Dr. Heidi Griffith for her help in collecting some of the human stereological data. We thank Archibald Fobbs, curator of the Yakovlev and Welker Brain Collections and Dr. Adrianne Noe, Director, National Museum of Health and Medicine for their crucial role in preserving these collections and making them available to us and to the broader scientific community. In the Hof lab, technical help was provided by B. Wicinski and S. Harry. Several of the great ape brains involved in this study were on loan to the "Great Ape Aging Project" from zoological gardens that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and that participate in the Ape Taxon Advisory Group. We especially appreciate the contribution of zoo veterinarians and staff in collecting and providing specimens. Additional human tissue was obtained from the NICHD Brain and Tissue Bank for Developmental Disorders.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
James S. McDonnell FoundationUNSPECIFIED
David and Lucile Packard FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20110124-083835459
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Allman, J. M., Tetreault, N. A., Hakeem, A. Y. and Park, S. (2011), The von economo neurons in apes and humans. American Journal of Human Biology, 23: 5–21. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.21136
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:21856
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:04 Feb 2011 00:03
Last Modified:09 Nov 2021 16:00

Repository Staff Only: item control page