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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Mar 6;104(10):4153-8. Epub 2007 Feb 27.

Cortical area size dictates performance at modality-specific behaviors.

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  • 1Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and Laboratory of Genetics, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 10010 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037.


The mammalian neocortex is organized into unique areas that serve functions such as sensory perception and modality-specific behaviors. The sizes of primary cortical areas vary across species, and also within a species, raising the question of whether area size dictates behavioral performance. We show that adult mice genetically engineered to overexpress the transcription factor EMX2 in embryonic cortical progenitor cells, resulting in reductions in sizes of somatosensory and motor areas, exhibit significant deficiencies at tactile and motor behaviors. Even increasing the size of sensorimotor areas by decreasing cortical EMX2 levels can lead to diminished sensorimotor behaviors. Genetic crosses that retain ectopic Emx2 transgene expression subcortically but restore cortical Emx2 expression to wild-type levels also restore cortical areas to wild-type sizes and in parallel restore tactile and motor behaviors to wild-type performance. These findings show that area size can dictate performance at modality-specific behaviors and suggest that areas have an optimal size, influenced by parameters of its neural system, for maximum behavioral performance. This study underscores the importance of establishing during embryonic development appropriate levels of regulatory proteins that determine area sizes, thereby influencing behavior later in life.

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