PerspectiveNeuroscience

Scaling of human brain size

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Science  15 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6394, pp. 1184-1185
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8948

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Summary

What makes humans unique as a species and as individuals? Our uniqueness stems from language, tool use, reasoning, and other cognitive abilities that are largely mediated by specialized regions of the cerebral cortex. These regions of higher cognitive function have expanded disproportionately during human evolution (compared with nonhuman primates) and during postnatal maturation, when cortical surface area expands threefold between infancy and adulthood (1). Our uniqueness as individuals reflects countless differences in brain structure, function, and connectivity. One basic anatomical difference between similarly aged individuals is a more than 1.5-fold variation in total brain size (and total cortical volume) (2). On page 1222 of this issue, Reardon et al. (3) bring this aspect of individual variability under the umbrella of “differential scaling” by showing that human brains of different sizes do not scale uniformly across all regions. Rather, larger brains show greater expansion in regions associated with higher cognition and less expansion in regions associated with sensory, motor, and limbic (emotion- and affect-related) functions.