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.
The human faculty for object-mediated action, including tool use and imitation, exceeds that of even our closest primate relatives and is a key foundation of human cognitive and cultural uniqueness. In humans and macaques, observing object-directed grasping actions activates a network of frontal, parietal, and occipitotemporal brain regions, but differences in human and macaque activation suggest that this system has been a focus of selection in the primate lineage. To study the evolution of this system, we performed functional neuroimaging in humans' closest living relatives, chimpanzees. We compare activations during performance of an object-directed manual grasping action, observation of the same action, and observation of a mimed version of the action that consisted of only movements without results. Performance and observation of the same action activated a distributed frontoparietal network similar to that reported in macaques and humans. Like humans and unlike macaques, these regions were also activated by observing movements without results. However, in a direct chimpanzee/human comparison, we also identified unique aspects of human neural responses to observed grasping. Chimpanzee activation showed a prefrontal bias, including significantly more activity in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, whereas human activation was more evenly distributed across more posterior regions, including significantly more activation in ventral premotor cortex, inferior parietal cortex, and inferotemporal cortex. This indicates a more "bottom-up" representation of observed action in the human brain and suggests that the evolution of tool use, social learning, and cumulative culture may have involved modifications of frontoparietal interactions.
Social learning varies among primate species. Macaques only copy the product of observed actions, or emulate, while humans and chimpanzees also copy the process, or imitate. In humans, imitation is linked to the mirror system. Here we compare mirror system connectivity across these species using diffusion tensor imaging. In macaques and chimpanzees, the preponderance of this circuitry consists of frontal-temporal connections via the extreme/external capsules. In contrast, humans have more substantial temporal-parietal and frontal-parietal connections via the middle/inferior longitudinal fasciculi and the third branch of the superior longitudinal fasciculus. In chimpanzees and humans, but not in macaques, this circuitry includes connections with inferior temporal cortex. In humans alone, connections with superior parietal cortex were also detected. We suggest a model linking species differences in mirror system connectivity and responsivity with species differences in behavior, including adaptations for imitation and social learning of tool use.
Early life stress (ELS) is a risk factor for anxiety, mood disorders and alterations in stress responses. Less is known about the long-term neurobiological impact of ELS. We used [(18)F]-fluorodeoxyglucose Positron Emission Tomography (FDG-PET) to assess neural responses to a moderate stress test in adult monkeys that experienced ELS as infants. Both groups of monkeys showed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress-induced activations and cardiac arousal in response to the stressor. A whole brain analysis detected significantly greater regional cerebral glucose metabolism (rCGM) in superior temporal sulcus, putamen, thalamus, and inferotemporal cortex of ELS animals compared to controls. Region of interest (ROI) analyses performed in areas identified as vulnerable to ELS showed greater activity in the orbitofrontal cortex of ELS compared to control monkeys, but greater hippocampal activity in the control compared to ELS monkeys. Together, these results suggest hyperactivity in emotional and sensory processing regions of adult monkeys with ELS, and greater activity in stress-regulatory areas in the controls. Despite these neural responses, no group differences were detected in neuroendocrine, autonomic or behavioral responses, except for a trend towards increased stillness in the ELS monkeys. Together, these data suggest hypervigilance in the ELS monkeys in the absence of immediate danger.
Human neuroscience has seen a recent boom in studies on reflective, controlled, explicit social cognitive functions like imitation, perspective-taking, and empathy. The relationship of these higher-level functions to lower-level, reflexive, automatic, implicit functions is an area of current research. As the field continues to address this relationship, we suggest that an evolutionary, comparative approach will be useful, even essential. There is a large body of research on reflexive, automatic, implicit processes in animals. A growing perspective sees social cognitive processes as phylogenically continuous, making findings in other species relevant for understanding our own. One of these phylogenically continuous processes appears to be self-other matching or simulation. Mice are more sensitive to pain after watching other mice experience pain; geese experience heart rate increases when seeing their mate in conflict; and infant macaques, chimpanzees, and humans automatically mimic adult facial expressions. In this article, we review findings in different species that illustrate how such reflexive processes are related to ("higher order") reflexive processes, such as cognitive empathy, theory of mind, and learning by imitation. We do so in the context of self-other matching in three different domains-in the motor domain (somatomotor movements), in the perceptual domain (eye movements and cognition about visual perception), and in the autonomic/emotional domain. We also review research on the developmental origin of these processes and their neural bases across species. We highlight gaps in existing knowledge and point out some questions for future research. We conclude that our understanding of the psychological and neural mechanisms of self-other mapping and other functions in our own species can be informed by considering the layered complexity these functions in other species.
Human face recognition involves highly specialized cognitive and neural processes that enable the recognition of specific individuals. Although comparative studies suggest that similar cognitive processes underlie face recognition in chimpanzees and humans ([6-8] and Supplemental Data), it remains unknown whether chimpanzees also show face-selective activity in ventral temporal cortex. This study is the first to examine regional cerebral glucose metabolism with (18)F-flurodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography in chimpanzees after they performed computerized tasks matching conspecifics' faces and nonface objects (Supplemental Data). A whole-brain analysis comparing these two tasks in five chimpanzees revealed significant face-selective activity in regions known to comprise the distributed cortical face-processing network in humans, including superior temporal sulcus and orbitofrontal cortex. In order to identify regions that were exclusively active during one task, but not the other, we subtracted a resting-state condition from each task and identified the activity exclusive to each. This revealed numerous distinct patches of face-selective activity in the fusiform gyrus that were interspersed within a large expanse of object-selective cortex. This pattern suggests similar object form topography in the ventral temporal cortex of chimpanzees and humans, in which faces may represent a special class of visual stimulus.