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J Hum Evol. 2011 Jan;60(1):94-105. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.09.007. Epub 2010 Nov 5.

Patterns of differences in brain morphology in humans as compared to extant apes.

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  • 1Department of Pathology & Anatomical Sciences, University of Missouri School of Medicine, M309 Medical Sciences Building, One Hospital Drive, Columbia, MO 65212, USA.


Although human evolution is characterized by a vast increase in brain size, it is not clear whether or not certain regions of the brain are enlarged disproportionately in humans, or how this enlargement relates to differences in overall neural morphology. The aim of this study is to determine whether or not there are specific suites of features that distinguish the morphology of the human brain from that of apes. The study sample consists of whole brain, in vivo magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) and five ape species (gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos). Twenty-nine 3D landmarks, including surface and internal features of the brain were located on 3D MRI reconstructions of each individual using MEASURE software. Landmark coordinate data were scaled for differences in size and analyzed using Euclidean Distance Matrix Analysis (EDMA) to statistically compare the brains of each non-human ape species to the human sample. Results of analyses show both a pattern of brain morphology that is consistently different between all apes and humans, as well as patterns that differ among species. Further, both the consistent and species-specific patterns include cortical and subcortical features. The pattern that remains consistent across species indicates a morphological reorganization of 1) relationships between cortical and subcortical frontal structures, 2) expansion of the temporal lobe and location of the amygdala, and 3) expansion of the anterior parietal region. Additionally, results demonstrate that, although there is a pattern of morphology that uniquely defines the human brain, there are also patterns that uniquely differentiate human morphology from the morphology of each non-human ape species, indicating that reorganization of neural morphology occurred at the evolutionary divergence of each of these groups.

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