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Biochemical Specificity of von Economo Neurons in Hominoids

Stimpson, Cheryl D. and Tetreault, Nicole A. and Allman, John M. and Jacobs, Bob and Butti, Camilla and Hof, Patrick R. and Sherwood, Chet C. (2011) Biochemical Specificity of von Economo Neurons in Hominoids. American Journal of Human Biology, 23 (1). pp. 22-28. ISSN 1042-0533. PMCID PMC3004764. doi:10.1002/ajhb.21135.

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Objectives: Von Economo neurons (VENs) are defined by their thin, elongated cell body and long dendrites projecting from apical and basal ends. These distinctive neurons are mostly present in anterior cingulate (ACC) and fronto-insular (FI) cortex, with particularly high densities in cetaceans, elephants, and hominoid primates (i.e., humans and apes). This distribution suggests that VENs contribute to specializations of neural circuits in species that share both large brain size and complex social cognition, possibly representing an adaptation to rapidly relay socially-relevant information over long distances across the brain. Recent evidence indicates that unique patterns of protein expression may also characterize VENs, particularly involving molecules that are known to regulate gut and immune function. Methods: In this study, we used quantitative stereologic methods to examine the expression of three such proteins that are localized in VENs—activating-transcription factor 3 (ATF3), interleukin 4 receptor (IL4Rα), and neuromedin B (NMB). We quantified immunoreactivity against these proteins in different morphological classes of ACC layer V neurons of hominoids. Results:Among the different neuron types analyzed (pyramidal, VEN, fork, enveloping, and other multipolar), VENs showed the greatest percentage that displayed immunostaining. Additionally, a higher proportion of VENs in humans were immunoreactive to ATF3, IL4Rα, and NMB than in other apes. No other ACC layer V neuron type displayed a significant species difference in the percentage of immunoreactive neurons. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that phylogenetic variation exists in the protein expression profile of VENs, suggesting that humans might have evolved biochemical specializations for enhanced interoceptive sensitivity.

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Additional Information:© 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc. Received 29 September 2010; Revision received 13 October 2010; Accepted 18 October 2010. Published online 7 December 2010 in Wiley Online Library. Contract grant sponsor: Great Ape Aging Project (NIH); Contract grant number: AG14308; Contract grant sponsor: National Science Foundation; Contract grant numbers: BCS-0515484, BCS-0549117, BCS-0827531, DGE-0801634; Contract grant sponsor: National Institutes of Health; Contract grant number: NS42867; Contract grant sponsor: James S. McDonnell Foundation; Contract grant number: 22002078; Contract grant sponsors: Foundation for Comparative and Conservation Biology; Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. The authors thank Drs. Kebreten Manaye, William Seeley, Bud Craig, and Joseph Erwin for helpful discussion related to this research.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NSF Graduate Research FellowshipDGE-0801634
James S. McDonnell Foundation22002078
Foundation for Comparative and Conservation BiologyUNSPECIFIED
Cleveland Metroparks ZooUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:1
PubMed Central ID:PMC3004764
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20110124-095114592
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Official Citation:Stimpson, C. D., Tetreault, N. A., Allman, J. M., Jacobs, B., Butti, C., Hof, P. R. and Sherwood, C. C. (2011), Biochemical specificity of von economo neurons in hominoids. American Journal of Human Biology, 23: 22–28. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.21135
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:21860
Deposited By: Jason Perez
Deposited On:25 Jan 2011 16:43
Last Modified:09 Nov 2021 16:01

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