Posts Tagged 'precuneus'

Precuneus form and folds

bruner-et-al-aa2017One more paper on the morphology of the precuneus. This time we have analyzed a racially heterogenous sample, confirming that precuneus size is a major source of brain form variation also when a wider genetic variability is taken into account. It is a variation that is apparently independent from sex, race, or hemisphere, although males could have slightly larger proportions than females. A larger precuneus can be associated with additional folds, often in its anterior district, although this association is feeble. Geometric models suggest that the areas involved in this variations are the anterior-dorsal ones, roughly corresponding to area 7a. This area is the largest and more variable of the precuneus, and it includes the medial cortex but also the dorsal external cortex of the upper parietal lobule. It is functionally associated with the integration of somatic and visual information, and with self-centered mental imagery. These results also suggest that upper and lower areas of the precuneus should be considered separately when dealing with functional or evolutionary neuroanatomy. Our former papers on this topic concerned the shape of the precuneus, its cortical surface area, its sulcal patterns and  lateral extension, and the differences between humans and chimpanzees. Apart from the relevance in modern neuroanatomy, these same endocranial regions also display a corresponding spatial enlargement in modern human evolution.

Subparietal morphology

Pedro-Pereira and Bruner 2016In this last years we have been studying the morphology, surface and position of the precuneus in adult humans and chimps. This week we publish a survey on its coronal anatomy: lateral extension and sulcal pattern. The aim of this article is to provide a quantitative description of its parasagittal variation in terms of morphometrics and folding schemes. The subparietal sulcus is larger on the right side, and possibly larger in males. The size of the subparietal sulcus is not associated with the sulcal scheme, which is very variable even between hemispheres of the same individual. The height of the precuneus influences the outer cortical profile, but the morphology and width of the subparietal sulcus have no apparent effect on the external brain geometry. The precuneus in general influences the upper cortical shape, with scarce or no influence on the lateral outline of the upper parietal lobules. Therefore, shape changes in this lateral areas are more likely to be associated with changes of the intraparietal fold. Correlations between inner and outer morphology are useful to evaluate whether changes in deep anatomical elements can be indirectly evidenced in paleoneurology, through the analysis of the outer (endocranial) surface.

Precuneus and chimps

Bruner et al 2016 - Brain Structure and FunctionWe modern humans have larger parietal bones and large parietal lobes when compared with extinct human species and living apes. We also have an ontogenetic parietal bulging stage, a stage which is absent in apes and Neandertals. Interestingly, a main factor of variability in our brain morphology is the size of the precuneus, in terms of proportions and cortical surface area. Now we have compared human and chimp brains, and here it goes again: the main difference is a much larger precuneus in our species. It doesn’t look like an allometric issue, being possibly associated with that bulging stage specific of modern humans, and even absent in large-brained Neandertals. The precuneus is essential in visuospatial integration, coordinating brain, body, and environment, and bridging the somatosensorial experience with simulation and self-awareness. It is a key element to integrate space, time, and  social perception. It is also worth noting that parietal lobes are particularly vascularized in our species, and the precuneus is a high-metabolic and heat-accumulating element. This may be interesting when considering that it suffers early metabolic impairments in Alzheimer’s disease, a pathology particularly associated with our species. The precuneus is also a central hub of the default mode network. Interestingly, at least in adult modern humans the size of the parietal lobes is inversely correlated with the size of the frontal and temporal lobes, introducing some phylogenetic issues on the evolution of the fronto-parietal system.

For a long time we have been looking for subtle differences between human and ape brain. This one looks not that subtle. Any functional or histological change behind this expansion, at inter-specific and intra-specific level, is still to be investigated. But most of all, it remains to be established the nature of such morphological variations. Genetic factors and selective processes cannot be excluded, but these areas are also particularly sensitive to environmental influences, including training and cultural effects.


Journal of Anatomy Bruner et al 2014

Journal of Anatomy Best Paper Prize 2014”  to Bruner E., Rangel de Lázaro G., de la Cuétara JM., Martín-Loeches M., Colom R. & Jacobs HIL. 2014. ‘Midsagittal brain variation and MRI shape analysis of the precuneus in adult individuals’,  Journal of Anatomy, Volume 224, Issue 4, April 2014, pp 367-376,  as the most outstanding article published during 2014! The prize is awarded by the Anatomical Society. Thanks!!!

Precuneus and surface

Bruner et al 2015One year ago we showed that a main source of variation among adult human brains is due to the proportions of the precuneus. This seems to be a stand-alone feature, not integrated with other patent morphological changes of the brain form. The spatial pattern associated with the dilation/contraction of the precuneus is particularly similar to the parietal bulging characterizing the brain of our species in evolutionary terms. Now we have published a study of the anatomical factors associated with this shape change, namely an analysis of the whole precuneal volume (cortical surface and cortical thickness) in a sample of adult humans. The results suggest that the observed changes of precuneal shape and proportions are associated with actual changes in precuneal surface area. Therefore, it is a matter of absolute cortex volume, and not just of relative size. There are no differences in cortical thickness. The precuneal volume increases with positive allometry as brain size increases (that is, it increases more than the rest of the brain, as brains get bigger), but the individual differences – as well as the differences between hemispheres – are important. What is the cellular reason of such morphological variation? Number of neurons, connections, or other components?

Interestingly, such marked anatomical variation seems not influencing any standard psychometric variable. It can be hypothesized that traditional psychometric performances are not adequate to quantify the functions of the precuneus. This is likely most of all when taking into consideration its importance in the default mode network, which functions are not easy to capture with task-based metrics.


Bruner et al JA2014Paleoneurological studies based on endocranial geometry suggested that a spatial dilation of the deep parietal areas was the major morphological difference between modern and non modern human brains. In our species, the morphogenetic change associated with this parietal bulging was then localized in a very early post-natal period, in a  stage which is absent in chimpanzees or in Neandertals. In the meanwhile the deep parietal areas were demonstrated to have also special cytoarchitectonic elements in modern humans, to be the main functional and structural node of the human brain organization, to be critically involved in major cognitive capacities through the fronto-parietal connections, to be central to the default mode network, and to be essential in human-specific cognitive processes involving imagination and simulation. Such specific parietal modifications have been also tentatively associated with species-specific vulnerability to neurodegeneration in our species. Actually, the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are associated with metabolic, functional and structural impairments at the deep parietal areas, like the precuneus. These brain districts have been scarcely studied in term of morphology because of their difficult position, multifunctional roles, and blurred anatomical boundaries. Through a MRI shape analysis of adult human brains we have now identified the main character associated with individual brain variation in our species: the geometry of the precuneus. With a negligible effect of brain size or sex, the proportions of the precuneus are the main determinant of the midsagittal brain geometry. The brain morphological variation of the human genus and the brain morphological variation among adult modern humans share the same pattern: parietal bulging. And, at least for modern humans, this pattern is strictly determined by one single character: the longitudinal extension of the precuneal area. Evolutionary and functional evidence both converge toward the neural element which is at the same time the most variable at intra-specific level, strongly influencing our brain form. Many coincidences, which may be the result of the delicate spatial position of the deep parietal areas in the overall brain geometry. Or may there be more than this?

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