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Human and chimpanzee shared and divergent neurobiological systems for general and specific cognitive brain functions

Publication year 2023
Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Authors Martijn P van den Heuvel, Dirk Jan Ardesch, Lianne H Scholtens, Siemon De Lange, Neeltje E M van Haren, Iris E C Sommer, Udo Dannlowski, Jonathan Repple, Todd M Preuss, William D Hopkins, James K Rilling

A long-standing topic of interest in human neurosciences is the understanding of the neurobiology underlying human cognition. Less commonly considered is to what extent such systems may be shared with other species. We examined individual variation in brain connectivity in the context of cognitive abilities in chimpanzees (n = 45) and humans in search of a conserved link between cognition and brain connectivity across the two species. Cognitive scores were assessed on a variety of behavioral tasks using chimpanzee- and human-specific cognitive test batteries, measuring aspects of cognition related to relational reasoning, processing speed, and problem solving in both species. We show that chimpanzees scoring higher on such cognitive skills display relatively strong connectivity among brain networks also associated with comparable cognitive abilities in the human group. We also identified divergence in brain networks that serve specialized functions across humans and chimpanzees, such as stronger language connectivity in humans and relatively more prominent connectivity between regions related to spatial working memory in chimpanzees. Our findings suggest that core neural systems of cognition may have evolved before the divergence of chimpanzees and humans, along with potential differential investments in other brain networks relating to specific functional specializations between the two species.

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