Scalable architecture in mammalian brains

Nature. 2001 May 10;411(6834):189-93. doi: 10.1038/35075564.


Comparison of mammalian brain parts has often focused on differences in absolute size, revealing only a general tendency for all parts to grow together. Attempts to find size-independent effects using body weight as a reference variable obscure size relationships owing to independent variation of body size and give phylogenies of questionable significance. Here we use the brain itself as a size reference to define the cerebrotype, a species-by-species measure of brain composition. With this measure, across many mammalian taxa the cerebellum occupies a constant fraction of the total brain volume (0.13 +/- 0.02), arguing against the hypothesis that the cerebellum acts as a computational engine principally serving the neocortex. Mammalian taxa can be well separated by cerebrotype, thus allowing the use of quantitative neuroanatomical data to test evolutionary relationships. Primate cerebrotypes have progressively shifted and neocortical volume fractions have become successively larger in lemurs and lorises, New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, and hominoids, lending support to the idea that primate brain architecture has been driven by directed selection pressure. At the same time, absolute brain size can vary over 100-fold within a taxon, while maintaining a relatively uniform cerebrotype. Brains therefore constitute a scalable architecture.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Body Constitution
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebellum / anatomy & histology
  • Databases as Topic
  • Humans
  • Neocortex / anatomy & histology
  • Phylogeny
  • Primates / anatomy & histology*
  • Primates / classification*
  • Reference Values
  • Species Specificity