Approximate doubling of numbers of neurons in postnatal human cerebral cortex and in 35 specific cytoarchitectural areas from birth to 72 months

Pediatr Dev Pathol. 1999 May-Jun;2(3):244-59. doi: 10.1007/s100249900120.


From 1939 to 1967, J.L. Conel quantitatively studied the microscopic features of the developing human cerebral cortex and published the findings in eight volumes. We have constructed a database using his neuroanatomical measurements (neuronal packing density, myelinated large fiber density, large proximal dendrite density, somal breadth and height, and total cortical and cortical layer thickness) at the eight age periods (0 [term birth], 1, 3, 6, 15, 24, 48, and 72 postnatal months) he studied. In this report, we examine changes in neuron numbers over the eight age-points for 35 von Economo areas for which Conel gave appropriate data. From birth to 3 months postnatal age, total cortical neuron number increases 23-30%, then falls to within 3.5% of the birth value at 24 months, supporting our previous work showing that the observed decrease in the number of neurons per column of cortex under a 1-mm2 cortical surface from birth to 15 months is almost entirely due to cortical surface expansion. The present study also shows a 60-78% increase in total cortical neuron number above the birth value from postnatal ages 24 to 72 months. The generalization, to humans at least, of the finding of no postnatal neurogenesis in rhesus macaques, a species belonging to a superfamily that diverged from that of Homo sapiens more than 25 million years ago, is not warranted until explicitly proven for humans. The data of the present study support the existence of substantial postnatal neurogenesis in humans for the 35 cortical areas studied.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Cell Count
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Neurons / cytology*