Study: PFC in Humans Relative to Nonhuman Primates

Quantitative Assessment of Prefrontal Cortex in Humans Relative to Nonhuman Primates

Human, Chimpanzee, Macaque


Humans have the largest cerebral cortex among primates. The question of whether association cortex, particularly prefrontal cortex (PFC), is disproportionately larger in humans compared to nonhuman primates is controversial: some studies report that human PFC is relatively larger whereas others report a more uniform PFC scaling. We address this controversy using MRI-derived cortical surfaces of many individual humans, chimpanzees, and macaques. We present two parcellation-based PFC delineations based on cytoarchitecture and function and show that a previously used morphological surrogate (cortex anterior to the genu of the corpus callosum) substantially underestimates PFC extent, especially in humans. We find that the proportion of cortical gray matter occupied by PFC in humans is up to 1.9-fold greater than in macaques and 1.2-fold greater than in chimpanzees. The disparity is even more prominent for the proportion of subcortical white matter underlying PFC, which is 2.4-fold greater in humans than in macaques and 1.7-fold greater than in chimpanzees.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1721653115

  • Chad J Donahue
  • Matthew F Glasser
  • Todd M Preuss
  • James K Rilling
  • David C Van Essen
  • St. Luke's Hospital
  • Yerkes National Primate Research Center
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Emory University