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Brain Behav Evol. 2011;78(1):51-93. doi: 10.1159/000327320. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

All rodents are not the same: a modern synthesis of cortical organization.

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  • 1Center for Neuroscience, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95618, USA.


Rodents are a major order of mammals that is highly diverse in distribution and lifestyle. Five suborders, 34 families, and 2,277 species within this order occupy a number of different niches and vary along several lifestyle dimensions such as diel pattern (diurnal vs. nocturnal), terrain niche, and diet. For example, the terrain niche of rodents includes arboreal, aerial, terrestrial, semi-aquatic, burrowing, and rock dwelling. Not surprisingly, the behaviors associated with particular lifestyles are also highly variable and thus the neocortex, which generates these behaviors, has undergone corresponding alterations across species. Studies of cortical organization in species that vary along several dimensions such as terrain niche, diel pattern, and rearing conditions demonstrate that the size and number of cortical fields can be highly variable within this order. The internal organization of a cortical field also reflects lifestyle differences between species and exaggerates behaviorally relevant effectors such as vibrissae, teeth, or lips. Finally, at a cellular level, neuronal number and density varies for the same cortical field in different species and is even different for the same species reared in different conditions (laboratory vs. wild-caught). These very large differences across and within rodent species indicate that there is no generic rodent model. Rather, there are rodent models suited for specific questions regarding the development, function, and evolution of the neocortex.

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