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J Comp Neurol. 2019 Nov 21. doi: 10.1002/cne.24823. [Epub ahead of print]

Comparative neocortical neuromorphology in felids: African lion, African leopard, and cheetah.

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Laboratory of Quantitative Neuromorphology, Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychology, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Nash Family Department of Neuroscience and Friedman Brain Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York.
Borås Zoo, Borås, Sweden.
Center for Zoo and Wild Animal Health, Copenhagen Zoo, Frederiksberg, Denmark.
Department of Anthropology and Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, The George Washington University, Washington, District of Columbia.
School of Anatomical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Department of Anatomy, Des Moines University, Des Moines, Iowa.


The present study examines cortical neuronal morphology in the African lion (Panthera leo leo), African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus), and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus). Tissue samples were removed from prefrontal, primary motor, and primary visual cortices and investigated with a Golgi stain and computer-assisted morphometry to provide somatodendritic measures of 652 neurons. Although neurons in the African lion were insufficiently impregnated for accurate quantitative dendritic measurements, descriptions of neuronal morphologies were still possible. Qualitatively, the range of spiny and aspiny neurons across the three species was similar to those observed in other felids, with typical pyramidal neurons being the most prominent neuronal type. Quantitatively, somatodendritic measures of typical pyramidal neurons in the cheetah were generally larger than in the African leopard, despite similar brain sizes. A MARsplines analysis of dendritic measures correctly differentiated 87.4% of complete typical pyramidal neurons between the African leopard and cheetah. In addition, unbiased stereology was used to compare the soma size of typical pyramidal neurons (n = 2,238) across all three cortical regions and gigantopyramidal neurons (n = 1,189) in primary motor and primary visual cortices. Both morphological and stereological analyses indicated that primary motor gigantopyramidal neurons were exceptionally large across all three felids compared to other carnivores, possibly due to specializations related to the felid musculoskeletal systems. The large size of these neurons in the cheetah which, unlike lions and leopards, does not belong to the Panthera genus, suggests that exceptionally enlarged primary motor gigantopyramidal neurons evolved independently in these felid species.


Golgi stain; RRID:SCR_001775; RRID:SCR_001905; RRID:SCR_002526; cerebral cortex; dendrites; gigantopyramidal neuron; pyramidal neuron


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