Brain size and cortical structure in the adult human brain

Cereb Cortex. 2008 Sep;18(9):2181-91. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhm244. Epub 2008 Jan 29.


We investigated the scale relationship between size and cortical structure of human brains in a large sample of magnetic resonance imaging data. Cortical structure was estimated with several measures (cortical volume, surface area, and thickness, sulcal depth, and absolute mean curvature in sulcal regions and sulcal walls) using three-dimensional surface-based methods in 148 normal subjects (n [men/women]: 83/65, age [mean +/- standard deviation]: 25.0 +/- 4.9 years). We found significantly larger scaling exponents than geometrically predicted for cortical surface area, absolute mean curvature in sulcal regions and in sulcal walls, and smaller ones for cortical volume and thickness. As brain size increases, the cortex thickens only slightly, but the degree of sulcal convolution increases dramatically, indicating that human cortices are not simply scaled versions of one another. Our results are consistent with previous hypotheses that greater local clustering of interneuronal connections would be required in a larger brain, and fiber tension between local cortical areas would induce cortical folds. We suggest that sex effects are explained by brain size effects in cortical structure at a macroscopic and lobar regional level, and that it is necessary to consider true relationships between cortical measures and brain size due to the limitations of linear stereotaxic normalization.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mammals
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Organ Size*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Species Specificity