What can volumes reveal about human brain evolution? A framework for bridging behavioral, histometric, and volumetric perspectives
Frontiers Media SA -- Frontiers in Neuroanatomy
DOI 10.3389/fnana.2014.00051
  1. cognitive evolution
  2. brain evolution
  3. primates
  4. illusions
  5. histology
  6. brain volume
  7. visual cortex

An overall relationship between brain size and cognitive ability exists across primates. Can more specific information about neural function be gleaned from cortical area volumes? Numerous studies have found significant relationships between brain structures and behaviors. However, few studies have speculated about brain structure-function relationships from the microanatomical to the macroanatomical level. Here we address this problem in comparative neuroanatomy, where the functional relevance of overall brain size and the sizes of cortical regions have been poorly understood, by considering comparative psychology, with measures of visual acuity and the perception of visual illusions. We outline a model where the macroscopic size (volume or surface area) of a cortical region (such as the primary visual cortex, V1) is related to the microstructure of discrete brain regions. The hypothesis developed here is that an absolutely larger V1 can process more information with greater fidelity due to having more neurons to represent a field of space. This is the first time that the necessary comparative neuroanatomical research at the microstructural level has been brought to bear on the issue. The evidence suggests that as the size of V1 increases: the number of neurons increases, the neuron density decreases, and the density of neuronal connections increases. Thus, we describe how information about gross neuromorphology, using V1 as a model for the study of other cortical areas, may permit interpretations of cortical function.