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Continued growth of the central nervous system without mandatory addition of neurons in the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)

Ayanda Ngwenya, Nina Patzke, Paul R. Manger, Suzana Herculano-Houzel (2016), Brain, Behavior and Evolution 87, 19-38.


It is generally believed that animals with larger bodies require larger brains, composed of more neurons. Across mammalian species, there is a correlation between body mass and number of brain neurons, albeit with low allometric exponents. If larger bodies imperatively require more neurons to operate them, then such an increase in number of neurons should be detected across individuals of a continuously growing species, such as the Nile crocodile. In the current study we use the isotropic fractionator method of cell counting to determine how the number of neurons and non-neurons in 6 specific brain regions and the spinal cord change with increasing body mass in the Nile crocodile. The CNS structures examined all increase in mass as a function of body mass, with allometric exponents of around 0.2, except for the spinal cord which increases with an exponent of 0.6. We find that numbers of non-neurons increase slowly, but significantly, in all CNS structures, scaling as a function of body mass with exponents ranging between 0.1 and 0.3. In contrast, numbers of neurons scale with body mass in the spinal cord, olfactory bulb, cerebellum and telencephalon, with exponents of between 0.08 to 0.20, but not in the brainstem and diencephalon, the brain structures that receive inputs and send outputs to the growing body. Densities of both neurons and non-neurons decrease with increasing body mass. These results indicate that increasing body mass with growth in the Nile crocodile is associated with a general addition of non-neurons and increasing cell size throughout CNS structures, but is only associated with addition of neurons in some structures (and at very small rates) and not in those brain structures directly connected to the body. Larger bodies thus do not imperatively require more neurons to operate them.

This article is unfortunately not freely available, but email the author for a PDF here