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Scaling of auditory neurons in cortical areas relative to subcortical structures in primate brains

Wong P, Peebles JK, Asplund CL, Collins CE, Herculano-Houzel S, Kaas JH (2013) Brain Behav Evol 81, 209-218.

Allometric studies in primates have shown that the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and remaining brain structures increase in size as a linear function of their numbers of neurons and nonneuronal cells across primates. Whether such scaling rules also apply to functionally related structures such as those of the auditory system is unknown. Here, we investigate the scaling of brain structures in the auditory pathway of six primate species and the closely related tree shrew. Using the isotropic fractionator method to estimate the numbers of neurons and nonneuronal cells in the inferior colliculus, medial geniculate nucleus, and auditory cortex (Ac), we assessed how they scaled across species and examined the relative scaling relationships among them. As expected, each auditory structure scales in mass as a linear function of its number of neurons, with no significant changes in neuronal density across species. The Ac scales proportionately with the cerebral cortex as a whole, maintaining a relative mass of approximately 1% and a relative number of neurons of 0.7%. However, the Ac gains neurons faster than both subcortical structures examined. As a result, larger primate brains have increased ratios of cortical to subcortical neurons involved in processing auditory information.

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