Hominoid visual brain structure volumes and the position of the lunate sulcus

J Hum Evol. 2010 Apr;58(4):281-92. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.11.011. Epub 2010 Feb 21.


It has been argued that changes in the relative sizes of visual system structures predated an increase in brain size and provide evidence of brain reorganization in hominins. However, data about the volume and anatomical limits of visual brain structures in the extant taxa phylogenetically closest to humans-the apes-remain scarce, thus complicating tests of hypotheses about evolutionary changes. Here, we analyze new volumetric data for the primary visual cortex and the lateral geniculate nucleus to determine whether or not the human brain departs from allometrically-expected patterns of brain organization. Primary visual cortex volumes were compared to lunate sulcus position in apes to investigate whether or not inferences about brain reorganization made from fossil hominin endocasts are reliable in this context. In contrast to previous studies, in which all species were relatively poorly sampled, the current study attempted to evaluate the degree of intraspecific variability by including numerous hominoid individuals (particularly Pan troglodytes and Homo sapiens). In addition, we present and compare volumetric data from three new hominoid species-Pan paniscus, Pongo pygmaeus, and Symphalangus syndactylus. These new data demonstrate that hominoid visual brain structure volumes vary more than previously appreciated. In addition, humans have relatively reduced primary visual cortex and lateral geniculate nucleus volumes as compared to allometric predictions from other hominoids. These results suggest that inferences about the position of the lunate sulcus on fossil endocasts may provide information about brain organization.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Fossils
  • Geniculate Bodies / anatomy & histology
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Hylobates / anatomy & histology*
  • Macaca fascicularis / anatomy & histology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Organ Size
  • Pan paniscus / anatomy & histology*
  • Pan troglodytes / anatomy & histology*
  • Pongo pygmaeus / anatomy & histology*
  • Visual Cortex / anatomy & histology*