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No relative expansion of the number of prefrontal neurons in primate and human evolution

Mariana Gabi, Kleber Neves, Carolinne Masseron, Pedro FM Ribeiro, Lissa Ventura-Antunes, Laila Torres, Bruno Mota, Jon H Kaas and Suzana Herculano-Houzel (2016) PNAS 113, 9617-9622.


Human brain evolution is often considered synonymous with cortical expansion, in particular of the prefrontal cortex, a cortical region required for our remarkable cognitive abilities such as personality expression, planning, and decision making. In this study, we show that the expansion of numbers of cortical neurons in human and nonhuman primate evolution occurred in a similar manner across the cortex, without an increase in the relative number of neurons in the prefrontal region, and without a relative increase in the number of cells in the prefrontal white matter. One thing that distinguishes the human brain from other primate brains is thus not the relative size of its prefrontal cortex but its absolute number of neurons.