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:
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
Biophysicists reveal how optogenetic tool works
29.05.2020 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
Mapping immune cells in brain tumors
29.05.2020 | University of Zurich
In living cells, enzymes drive biochemical metabolic processes enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very ability which allows them to be used as catalysts in biotechnology, for example to create chemical products such as pharmaceutics. Researchers now identified an enzyme that, when illuminated with blue light, becomes catalytically active and initiates a reaction that was previously unknown in enzymatics. The study was published in "Nature Communications".
Enzymes: they are the central drivers for biochemical metabolic processes in every living cell, enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very...
Early detection of tumors is extremely important in treating cancer. A new technique developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from normal tissue. The work is published May 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from...
Microelectronics as a key technology enables numerous innovations in the field of intelligent medical technology. The Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT coordinates the BMBF cooperative project "I-call" realizing the first electronic system for ultrasound-based, safe and interference-resistant data transmission between implants in the human body.
When microelectronic systems are used for medical applications, they have to meet high requirements in terms of biocompatibility, reliability, energy...
Thomas Heine, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at TU Dresden, together with his team, first predicted a topological 2D polymer in 2019. Only one year later, an international team led by Italian researchers was able to synthesize these materials and experimentally prove their topological properties. For the renowned journal Nature Materials, this was the occasion to invite Thomas Heine to a News and Views article, which was published this week. Under the title "Making 2D Topological Polymers a reality" Prof. Heine describes how his theory became a reality.
Ultrathin materials are extremely interesting as building blocks for next generation nano electronic devices, as it is much easier to make circuits and other...
Scientists took a leukocyte as the blueprint and developed a microrobot that has the size, shape and moving capabilities of a white blood cell. Simulating a blood vessel in a laboratory setting, they succeeded in magnetically navigating the ball-shaped microroller through this dynamic and dense environment. The drug-delivery vehicle withstood the simulated blood flow, pushing the developments in targeted drug delivery a step further: inside the body, there is no better access route to all tissues and organs than the circulatory system. A robot that could actually travel through this finely woven web would revolutionize the minimally-invasive treatment of illnesses.
A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart invented a tiny microrobot that resembles a white blood cell...
19.05.2020 | Event News
07.04.2020 | Event News
06.04.2020 | Event News
29.05.2020 | Materials Sciences
29.05.2020 | Materials Sciences
29.05.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering