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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Sep 28;96(20):11601-6.

Distinctive compartmental organization of human primary visual cortex.

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  • 1Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 4401 West Admiral Doyle Drive, New Iberia, LA 70560, USA.


In the primary visual area of macaques and other monkeys, layer 4A is a mosaic of separate tissue compartments related to the parvocellular (P) and magnocellular (M) layers of the lateral geniculate nucleus. This mosaic resembles a honeycomb, with thin walls that receive direct P inputs and cores consisting of columns of dendrites and cell bodies ascending from layer 4B, a layer that receives indirect M inputs. To determine whether apes and humans have a macaque-like layer 4A, we examined the primary visual area in humans, chimpanzees, an orangutan, Old World monkeys, and New World monkeys. Apes and humans lacked the dense band of cytochrome oxidase staining in layer 4A that marks the stratum of P-geniculate afferents in monkeys. Furthermore, humans displayed a unique arrangement of presumed M-related cells and dendrites in layer 4A, as revealed with antibodies against nonphosphorylated neurofilaments and microtubule-associated protein 2. Human 4A contained a large amount of M-like tissue distributed in a complex, mesh-like pattern rather than in simple vertical arrays as in other anthropoid primates. Our results suggest that (i) the direct P-geniculate projection to layer 4A was reduced early in the evolution of the ape-human group, (ii) the M component of layer 4A was subsequently modified (and possibly enhanced) in the human lineage, and (iii) the honeycomb model does not adequately characterize human layer 4A. This is the first demonstration of a difference in the cortical architecture of humans and apes, the animals most closely related to humans.

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