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Coordinated scaling of cortical and cerebellar numbers of neurons

Herculano-Houzel S (2010) Front Neuroanat 4, 12.

While larger brains possess concertedly larger cerebral cortices and cerebella, the relative size of the cerebral cortex increases with brain size, but relative cerebellar size does not. In the absence of data on numbers of neurons in these structures, this discrepancy has been used to dispute the hypothesis that the cerebral cortex and cerebellum function and have evolved in concert and to support a trend towards neocorticalization in evolution. However, the rationale for interpreting changes in absolute and relative size of the cerebral cortex and cerebellum relies on the assumption that they reflect absolute and relative numbers of neurons in these structures across all species – an assumption that our recent studies have shown to be flawed. Here I show for the first time that the numbers of neurons in the cerebral cortex and cerebellum are directly correlated across 19 mammalian species of 4 different orders, including humans, and increase concertedly in a similar fashion both within and across the orders Eulipotyphla (Insectivora), Rodentia, Scandentia and Primata, such that on average a ratio of 3.6 neurons in the cerebellum to every neuron in the cerebral cortex is maintained across species. This coordinated scaling of cortical and cerebellar numbers of neurons provides direct evidence in favor of concerted function, scaling and evolution of these brain structures, and suggests that the common notion that equates cognitive advancement with neocortical expansion should be revisited to consider in its stead the coordinated scaling of neocortex and cerebellum as a functional ensemble.

The PDF of this article is freely available and can be downloaded here.