Friedrich P, Forkel SJ, Amiez C, Balsters JH, Coulon O, Fan L, Goulas A, Hadj-Bouziane F, Hecht EE, Heuer K, Jiang T, Latzman R, Liu X, Loh KK, Patil KR, Lopez-Persem A, Procyk E, Sallet J, Toro R, Vickery S, Weis S, Wilson CRE, Xu T, Zerbi V, Eickoff SB, Margulies DS, Mars RB, and Thiebaut Schotten de M. 2021. “Imaging evolution of the primate brain: the next frontier?” NeuroImage, 228, 117685. Publisher's Version
In primates, resting state functional neuroimaging (rsfcMRI) has identified several large-scale, intrinsic brain networks, including the salience network (SN), which is involved in detecting stimulus salience. Intranasal oxytocin (IN-OT) has been shown to modulate the salience and rewarding quality of social stimuli in mammals and numerous studies have shown that it can affect the functional connectivity between brain regions. Less is known, however, about how these effects unfold over time following IN-OT administration. This study used rsfcMRI in anesthetized rhesus macaques to track temporal changes in the functional connectivity between brain regions involved in the SN, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), anterior insula (AI), amygdala (amy), and ventral striatum (vstr), lasting 3 hr after IN-OT or Placebo (saline) administration. We found significant temporal changes in the functional connectivity between all regions associated with treatment condition. IN-OT increased the functional connectivity between AI_vstr, ACC_amy (right hemisphere), ACC_vstr (left hemisphere), and amy_vstr (right hemisphere), but reduced the functional connectivity between ACC_AI, and the AI_amygdala. These results suggest that IN-OT may dampen salience detection in rhesus monkeys, consistent with previous findings of reduced social vigilance, while enhancing the connectivity between the SN and regions involved in processing reward.
Whereas a number of studies have examined relationships among brain activity, social cognitive skills, and autistic traits, fewer studies have evaluated whether structural connections among brain regions relate to these traits and skills. Uncinate fasciculus (UF) and inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF) are white matter tracts that may underpin the behavioral expression of these skills because they connect regions within or provide sensory information to brain areas implicated in social cognition, and structural differences in these tracts have been associated with autistic traits. We examined relationships among self-reported autistic traits, mentalizing, and water diffusivity in UF and ILF in a nonclinical sample of 24 young adults (mean age = 21.92 years, SD = 4.72 years; 15 women). We measured autistic traits using the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, and we measured mentalizing using the Dynamic Interactive Shapes Clips task. We used Tract-Based Spatial Statistics and randomize to examine relationships among fractional anisotropy (FA) values in bilateral ILF and UF, age, cognitive abilities, autistic traits, and mentalizing. Autistic traits were positively related to FA values in left ILF. No other relationships between FA values and other variables were significant. Results suggest that left ILF may be involved in the expression of autistic traits in individuals without clinical diagnoses.
Culture suffuses all aspects of human life. It shapes our minds and bodies and has provided a cumulative inheritance of knowledge, skills, institutions, and artifacts that allows us to truly stand on the shoulders of giants. No other species approaches the extent, diversity, and complexity of human culture, but we remain unsure how this came to be. The very uniqueness of human culture is both a puzzle and a problem. It is puzzling as to why more species have not adopted this manifestly beneficial strategy and problematic because the comparative methods of evolutionary biology are ill suited to explain unique events. Here, we develop a more particularistic and mechanistic evolutionary neuroscience approach to cumulative culture, taking into account experimental, developmental, comparative, and archaeological evidence. This approach reconciles currently competing accounts of the origins of human culture and develops the concept of a uniquely human technological niche rooted in a shared primate heritage of visuomotor coordination and dexterous manipulation.
Most intranasal oxytocin research to date has been carried out in men, but recent studies indicate that females' responses can differ substantially from males'. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved an all-female sample of 28 women not using hormonal contraception. Participants viewed animations of geometric shapes depicting either random movement or social interactions such as playing, chasing, or fighting. Probe questions asked whether any shapes were "friends" or "not friends." Social videos were preceded by cues to attend to either social relationships or physical size changes. All subjects received intranasal placebo spray at scan 1. While the experimenter was not blinded to nasal spray contents at Scan 1, the participants were. Scan 2 followed a randomized, double-blind design. At scan 2, half received a second placebo dose while the other half received 24 IU of intranasal oxytocin. We measured neural responses to these animations at baseline, as well as the change in neural activity induced by oxytocin. Oxytocin reduced activation in early visual cortex and dorsal-stream motion processing regions for the social > size contrast, indicating reduced activity related to social attention. Oxytocin also reduced endorsements that shapes were "friends" or "not friends," and this significantly correlated with reduction in neural activation. Furthermore, participants who perceived fewer social relationships at baseline were more likely to show oxytocin-induced increases in a broad network of regions involved in social perception and social cognition, suggesting that lower social processing at baseline may predict more positive neural responses to oxytocin.
The ability to recognize one's own reflection is shared by humans and only a few other species, including chimpanzees. However, this ability is highly variable across individual chimpanzees. In humans, self-recognition involves a distributed, right-lateralized network including frontal and parietal regions involved in the production and perception of action. The superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) is a system of white matter tracts linking these frontal and parietal regions. The current study measured mirror self-recognition (MSR) and SLF anatomy in 60 chimpanzees using diffusion tensor imaging. Successful self-recognition was associated with greater rightward asymmetry in the white matter of SLFII and SLFIII, and in SLFIII's gray matter terminations in Broca's area. We observed a visible progression of SLFIII's prefrontal extension in apes that show negative, ambiguous, and compelling evidence of MSR. Notably, SLFIII's terminations in Broca's area are not right-lateralized or particularly pronounced at the population level in chimpanzees, as they are in humans. Thus, chimpanzees with more human-like behavior show more human-like SLFIII connectivity. These results suggest that self-recognition may have co-emerged with adaptations to frontoparietal circuitry.
Human ancestors first modified stones into tools 2.6 million years ago, initiating a cascading increase in technological complexity that continues today. A parallel trend of brain expansion during the Paleolithic has motivated over 100 years of theorizing linking stone toolmaking and human brain evolution, but empirical support remains limited. Our study provides the first direct experimental evidence identifying likely neuroanatomical targets of natural selection acting on toolmaking ability. Subjects received MRI and DTI scans before, during, and after a 2-year Paleolithic toolmaking training program. White matter fractional anisotropy (FA) showed changes in branches of the superior longitudinal fasciculus leading into left supramarginal gyrus, bilateral ventral precentral gyri, and right inferior frontal gyrus pars triangularis. FA increased from Scan 1-2, a period of intense training, and decreased from Scan 2-3, a period of reduced training. Voxel-based morphometry found a similar trend toward gray matter expansion in the left supramarginal gyrus from Scan 1-2 and a reversal of this effect from Scan 2-3. FA changes correlated with training hours and with motor performance, and probabilistic tractography confirmed that white matter changes projected to gray matter changes and to regions that activate during Paleolithic toolmaking. These results show that acquisition of Paleolithic toolmaking skills elicits structural remodeling of recently evolved brain regions supporting human tool use, providing a mechanistic link between stone toolmaking and human brain evolution. These regions participate not only in toolmaking, but also in other complex functions including action planning and language, in keeping with the hypothesized co-evolution of these functions.
Gorillas include separate eastern (Gorilla beringei) and western (Gorilla gorilla) African species that diverged from each other approximately 2 million years ago. Although anatomical, genetic, behavioral, and socioecological differences have been noted among gorilla populations, little is known about variation in their brain structure. This study examines neuroanatomical variation between gorilla species using structural neuroimaging. Postmortem magnetic resonance images were obtained of brains from 18 captive western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), 15 wild mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), and 3 Grauer's gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) (both wild and captive). Stereologic methods were used to measure volumes of brain structures, including left and right frontal lobe gray and white matter, temporal lobe gray and white matter, parietal and occipital lobes gray and white matter, insular gray matter, hippocampus, striatum, thalamus, each hemisphere and the vermis of the cerebellum, and the external and extreme capsules together with the claustrum. Among the species differences, the volumes of the hippocampus and cerebellum were significantly larger in G. gorilla than G. beringei. These anatomical differences may relate to divergent ecological adaptations of the two species. Specifically, G. gorilla engages in more arboreal locomotion and thus may rely more on cerebellar circuits. In addition, they tend to eat more fruit and have larger home ranges and consequently might depend more on spatial mapping functions of the hippocampus.
Understanding the function and connectivity of thalamic nuclei is critical for understanding normal and pathological brain function. The medial geniculate nucleus (MGN) has been studied mostly in the context of auditory processing and its connection to the auditory cortex. However, there is a growing body of evidence that the MGN and surrounding associated areas ('MGN/S') have a diversity of projections including those to the globus pallidus, caudate/putamen, amygdala, hypothalamus, and thalamus. Concomitantly, pathways projecting to the medial geniculate include not only the inferior colliculus but also the auditory cortex, insula, cerebellum, and globus pallidus. Here we expand our understanding of the connectivity of the MGN/S by using comparative diffusion weighted imaging with probabilistic tractography in both human and mouse brains (most previous work was in rats). In doing so, we provide the first report that attempts to match probabilistic tractography results between human and mice. Additionally, we provide anterograde tracing results for the mouse brain, which corroborate the probabilistic tractography findings. Overall, the study provides evidence for the homology of MGN/S patterns of connectivity across species for understanding translational approaches to thalamic connectivity and function. Further, it points to the utility of DTI in both human studies and small animal modeling, and it suggests potential roles of these connections in human cognition, behavior, and disease.
Many of the behavioral capacities that distinguish humans from other primates rely on fronto-parietal circuits. The superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) is the primary white matter tract connecting lateral frontal with lateral parietal regions; it is distinct from the arcuate fasciculus, which interconnects the frontal and temporal lobes. Here we report a direct, quantitative comparison of SLF connectivity using virtual in vivo dissection of the SLF in chimpanzees and humans. SLF I, the superior-most branch of the SLF, showed similar patterns of connectivity between humans and chimpanzees, and was proportionally volumetrically larger in chimpanzees. SLF II, the middle branch, and SLF III, the inferior-most branch, showed species differences in frontal connectivity. In humans, SLF II showed greater connectivity with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, whereas in chimps SLF II showed greater connectivity with the inferior frontal gyrus. SLF III was right-lateralized and proportionally volumetrically larger in humans, and human SLF III showed relatively reduced connectivity with dorsal premotor cortex and greater extension into the anterior inferior frontal gyrus, especially in the right hemisphere. These results have implications for the evolution of fronto-parietal functions including spatial attention to observed actions, social learning, and tool use, and are in line with previous research suggesting a unique role for the right anterior inferior frontal gyrus in the evolution of human fronto-parietal network architecture.
Efforts to understand nervous system structure and function have received new impetus from the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Comparative analyses can contribute to this effort by leading to the discovery of general principles of neural circuit design, information processing, and gene-structure-function relationships that are not apparent from studies on single species. We here propose to extend the comparative approach to nervous system 'maps' comprising molecular, anatomical, and physiological data. This research will identify which neural features are likely to generalize across species, and which are unlikely to be broadly conserved. It will also suggest causal relationships between genes, development, adult anatomy, physiology, and, ultimately, behavior. These causal hypotheses can then be tested experimentally. Finally, insights from comparative research can inspire and guide technological development. To promote this research agenda, we recommend that teams of investigators coalesce around specific research questions and select a set of 'reference species' to anchor their comparative analyses. These reference species should be chosen not just for practical advantages, but also with regard for their phylogenetic position, behavioral repertoire, well-annotated genome, or other strategic reasons. We envision that the nervous systems of these reference species will be mapped in more detail than those of other species. The collected data may range from the molecular to the behavioral, depending on the research question. To integrate across levels of analysis and across species, standards for data collection, annotation, archiving, and distribution must be developed and respected. To that end, it will help to form networks or consortia of researchers and centers for science, technology, and education that focus on organized data collection, distribution, and training. These activities could be supported, at least in part, through existing mechanisms at NSF, NIH, and other agencies. It will also be important to develop new integrated software and database systems for cross-species data analyses. Multidisciplinary efforts to develop such analytical tools should be supported financially. Finally, training opportunities should be created to stimulate multidisciplinary, integrative research into brain structure, function, and evolution.