News of the WeekNeuroscience

New Clues About What Makes the Human Brain Special

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Science  26 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6008, pp. 1167
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6008.1167

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What differentiates the human brain from those of our nearest primate relatives? Size, for one. But many researchers have come to suspect that less obvious differences lurking in the fine-scale structure of the human brain also contribute to its extraordinary processing power, although identifying such microscopic differences has been a challenge. Now, researchers who've examined preserved samples of cerebral cortex from humans and several species of ape report that in a particular region of the prefrontal cortex, an area that contributes to abstract thinking and other sophisticated cognition, neurons have more space between them in the human brain than in the brains of apes. This extra space allows more room for connections between neurons.