Normative brain size variation and brain shape diversity in humans

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Science  15 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6394, pp. 1222-1227
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2578

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Shifts in brain regions with brain size

Brain size among normal humans varies as much as twofold. Reardon et al. surveyed the cortical and subcortical structure of more than 3000 human brains by noninvasive imaging (see the Perspective by Van Essen). They found that the scaling of different regions across the range of brain sizes is not consistent: Some brain regions are metabolically costly and are favored in larger brains. This shifts the balance between associative and sensorimotor brain systems in a brain size–dependent way.

Science, this issue p. 1222; see also p. 1184


Brain size variation over primate evolution and human development is associated with shifts in the proportions of different brain regions. Individual brain size can vary almost twofold among typically developing humans, but the consequences of this for brain organization remain poorly understood. Using in vivo neuroimaging data from more than 3000 individuals, we find that larger human brains show greater areal expansion in distributed frontoparietal cortical networks and related subcortical regions than in limbic, sensory, and motor systems. This areal redistribution recapitulates cortical remodeling across evolution, manifests by early childhood in humans, and is linked to multiple markers of heightened metabolic cost and neuronal connectivity. Thus, human brain shape is systematically coupled to naturally occurring variations in brain size through a scaling map that integrates spatiotemporally diverse aspects of neurobiology.

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