Systematic, cross-cortex variation in neuron numbers in rodents and primates

Cereb Cortex. 2015 Jan;25(1):147-60. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht214. Epub 2013 Aug 19.


Uniformity, local variability, and systematic variation in neuron numbers per unit of cortical surface area across species and cortical areas have been claimed to characterize the isocortex. Resolving these claims has been difficult, because species, techniques, and cortical areas vary across studies. We present a stereological assessment of neuron numbers in layers II-IV and V-VI per unit of cortical surface area across the isocortex in rodents (hamster, Mesocricetus auratus; agouti, Dasyprocta azarae; paca, Cuniculus paca) and primates (owl monkey, Aotus trivigratus; tamarin, Saguinus midas; capuchin, Cebus apella); these chosen to vary systematically in cortical size. The contributions of species, cortical areas, and techniques (stereology, "isotropic fractionator") to neuron estimates were assessed. Neurons per unit of cortical surface area increase across the rostro-caudal (RC) axis in primates (varying by a factor of 1.64-2.13 across the rostral and caudal poles) but less in rodents (varying by a factor of 1.15-1.54). Layer II-IV neurons account for most of this variation. When integrated into the context of species variation, and this RC gradient in neuron numbers, conflicts between studies can be accounted for. The RC variation in isocortical neurons in adulthood mirrors the gradients in neurogenesis duration in development.

Keywords: cortex; development; gradient; numbers.

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
  • Aotus trivirgatus
  • Cebus
  • Cell Count
  • Cuniculidae
  • Dasyproctidae
  • Mesocricetus
  • Neocortex / cytology*
  • Neuroglia / cytology
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Saguinus
  • Species Specificity