Monogamous and promiscuous rodent species exhibit discrete variation in the size of the medial prefrontal cortex

Brain Behav Evol. 2012;80(1):4-14. doi: 10.1159/000339247. Epub 2012 Jun 30.


Limbic-associated cortical areas, such as the medial prefrontal and retrosplenial cortex (mPFC and RS, respectively), are involved in the processing of emotion, motivation, and various aspects of working memory and have been implicated in mating behavior. To determine whether the independent evolution of mating systems is associated with a convergence in cortical mechanisms, we compared the size of mPFC and RS between the monogamous prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) and the promiscuous meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus), and between the monogamous California mouse (Peromyscus californicus) and the promiscuous white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus). For both promiscuous mice and voles, the mPFC occupied a significantly larger percentage of total cortex than in the monogamous species. No significant differences were observed for the RS or overall cortex size with respect to mating system, supporting the convergent evolution of mPFC size, specifically. Individual differences in the mating behavior of male prairie voles (wandering versus pair-bonding), presumably facultative tactics, were not reflected in the relative size of the mPFC, which is likely a heritable trait. Given the importance of the mPFC for complex working memory, particularly object-place and temporal order memory, we hypothesize that the relatively greater size of the mPFC in promiscuous species reflects a greater need to remember multiple individuals and the times and locations in which they have been encountered in the home range.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arvicolinae / anatomy & histology*
  • Arvicolinae / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Peromyscus / anatomy & histology*
  • Peromyscus / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Social Behavior