Developmental mechanics of the primate cerebral cortex

Anat Embryol (Berl). 2005 Dec;210(5-6):411-7. doi: 10.1007/s00429-005-0041-5.


The idea that the brain is shaped through the interplay of predetermined ontogenetic factors and mechanisms of self-organization has a long tradition in biology, going back to the late-nineteenth century. Here we illustrate the substantial impact of mechanical forces on the development, morphology, and functioning of the primate cerebral cortex. Based on the analysis of quantitative structural data for prefrontal cortices of the adult rhesus monkey, we demonstrate that (1) the characteristic shape of cortical convolutions can be explained by the global minimization of axonal tension in corticocortical projections; (2) mechanical forces resulting from cortical folding have a significant impact on the relative and absolute thickness of cortical layers in gyri and sulci; (3) folding forces may affect the cellular migration during cortical development, resulting in a significantly larger number of neurons in gyral compared to non-gyral regions; and (4) mechanically induced variations of morphology at the cellular level may result in different modes of neuronal functioning in gyri and sulci. These results underscore the significant contribution of mechanical forces during the self-organization of the primate cerebral cortex. Taking such factors into account within a framework of developmental mechanics can lead to a better understanding of how genetic specification, the layout of connections, brain shape as well as brain function are linked in normal and pathologically transformed brains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cell Movement
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / embryology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Female
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Morphogenesis
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology