Evolution of Hominoid Brain Connectomics (EBC)

Non-invasive characterisation of the cortical microstructure in non-human primate brains

A striking feature of the human species is our large brain, enabling some complex skills that surpass those of other species, such as tool use, social cognition and in particular language. The question of how the neural networks supporting these skills evolved during phylogeny is still open, mainly due to a lack of studies directly comparing human and non-human primate brains and the related behavior. The Evolution of Hominoid Brain Connectomics Project is a collaboration across two Max Planck institutes and addresses this question with a highly cross-disciplinary approach, bringing together primatology, paleoanthropology, comparative psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and neuroimaging.

Using ultra-high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we compare postmortem brains of wild and captive apes and monkeys to previously acquired data from human brains, at different anatomical levels. Furthermore, we will link behavioral data from wild and captive apes when alive, with post mortem measures on related brain networks.

Specifically, in the Department of Neurophysics, we perform quantitative myelin-sensitive mapping at unprecedented resolutions on whole postmortem brains. In combination with histological validation, we aim to provide a detailed characterization of tissue microstructure and cortical myelination in non-human primate brains.

The brains used for this project are all collected in an ethical and sustainable way through a network of sanctuaries and zoos that has been established by the MPI EVA.

Principal investigators of the EBC project:

PIs MPI EVA: Catherine Crockford, Philipp Gunz, Daniel Haun, Richard McElreath & Roman Wittig

PIs MPI CBS: Alfred Anwander, Angela Friederici & Nikolaus Weiskopf

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