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 NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation

nachricht Pollen taxi for bacteria
18.07.2018 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Machine-learning predicted a superhard and high-energy-density tungsten nitride

18.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts

18.07.2018 | Life Sciences

Why might reading make myopic?

18.07.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>