Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rare neurons discovered in monkey brains

21.05.2012
Max Planck scientists discover brain cells in monkeys that may be linked to self-awareness and empathy in humans

The anterior insular cortex is a small brain region that plays a crucial role in human self-awareness and in related neuropsychiatric disorders. A unique cell type – the von Economo neuron (VEN) – is located there.


Macaque Von Economo Neuron retrogradely labeled in anterior Insula. Picture: Henry Evrard / Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

For a long time, the VEN was assumed to be unique to humans, great apes, whales and elephants. Henry Evrard, neuroanatomist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, now discovered that the VEN occurs also in the insula of macaque monkeys.

The morphology, size and distribution of the monkey VEN suggest that it is at least a primal anatomical homolog of the human VEN. This finding offers new and much-needed opportunities to examine in detail the connections and functions of a cell and brain region that could have a key role in human self-awareness and in mental disorders including autism and specific forms of dementia.

The insular cortex, or simply insula, is a hidden cortical region folded and tucked away deep in the brain – an island within the cortex. Within the last decade, the insula has emerged from darkness as having a key role in diverse functions usually linked to our internal bodily states, to our emotions, to our self-awareness, and to our social interactions. The very anterior part of the insula in particular is where humans consciously sense subjective emotions, such as love, hate, resentment, self-confidence or embarrassment.

In relation to these feelings, the anterior insula is involved in various psychopathologies. Damage of the insula leads to apathy, and to the inability to tell what feelings we or our conversational partner experience. These inabilities and alteration of the insula are also encountered in autism and other highly detrimental neuropsychiatric disorders including the behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD).

The von Economo neuron (VEN) occurs almost exclusively in the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex. Until recently it was believed that the VEN is only present in humans, great apes and some large-brained mammals with complex social behavior such as whales and elephants. In contrast to the typical neighboring pyramidal neuron that is present in all mammals and all brain regions, the VEN has a peculiar spindle shape and is about three times as large. Their numeral density is selectively altered in autism and bvFTD.

Henry Evrard and his team, at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen now discovered VENs in the anterior insula in macaque monkeys. His present work provides compelling evidence that monkeys possess at least a primitive form of the human VEN although they do not have the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror, a behavioral hallmark of self-awareness.

“This means, other than previously believed, that highly concentrated VEN populations are not an exclusivity of hominids, but also occurs in other primate species”, explains Henry Evrard. “The VEN phylogeny needs to be reexamined. Most importantly, the very much-needed analysis of the connections and physiology of these specific neurons is now possible.” Knowing the functions of the VEN and its connections to other regions of the brain in monkeys could give us clues on the evolution of the anatomical substrate of self-awareness in humans and may help us in better understanding serious neuropsychiatric disabilities including autism, or even addictions such as to drugs or smoking.

Original Publication:
Henry C. Evrard, Thomas Forro, Nikos K. Logothetis (2012) Von Economo Neurons in the Anterior Insula of the Macaque Monkey. Neuron 74(3). doi: 10.1016
Contact:
Dr. Henry Evrard
Phone: +49 7071 601- 1724
E-mail: henry.evrard@tuebingen.mpg.de
Stephanie Bertenbreiter (Public Relations)
Phone: +49 7071 601- 1792
E-mail: presse-kyb@tuebingen.mpg.de
Printable images can be obtained at the Public Relations Office. Please send a proof upon publication.

The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics works in the elucidation of cognitive processes. It employs about 300 people from more than 40 countries and is located at the Max Planck Campus in Tübingen, Germany. The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics is one of 80 research institutes that the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science maintains in Germany and abroad.

Stephanie Bertenbreiter | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://tuebingen.mpg.de/en/homepage/detail/rare-neurons-discovered-in-monkey-brains.html

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>