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Compared with the nearest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee, the human has a brain that is huge. At a point in the past, a common ancestor gave rise to the two species of humans and chimpanzees. That evolutionary history is long and is still an area of intense study. But something happened to increase the size of the human brain relative to the chimpanzee. Read this article in which the author explores the current understanding of why this happened.

According to one hypothesis about the expansion of brain size, what tissue might have been sacrificed so energy was available to grow our larger brain? Based on what you know about that tissue and nervous tissue, why would there be a trade-off between them in terms of energy use?

Chapter review

The adult brain is separated into four major regions: the cerebrum, the diencephalon, the brain stem, and the cerebellum. The cerebrum is the largest portion and contains the cerebral cortex and subcortical nuclei. It is divided into two halves by the longitudinal fissure.

The cortex is separated into the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes. The frontal lobe is responsible for motor functions, from planning movements through executing commands to be sent to the spinal cord and periphery. The most anterior portion of the frontal lobe is the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with aspects of personality through its influence on motor responses in decision-making.

The other lobes are responsible for sensory functions. The parietal lobe is where somatosensation is processed. The occipital lobe is where visual processing begins, although the other parts of the brain can contribute to visual function. The temporal lobe contains the cortical area for auditory processing, but also has regions crucial for memory formation.

Nuclei beneath the cerebral cortex, known as the subcortical nuclei, are responsible for augmenting cortical functions. The basal nuclei receive input from cortical areas and compare it with the general state of the individual through the activity of a dopamine-releasing nucleus. The output influences the activity of part of the thalamus that can then increase or decrease cortical activity that often results in changes to motor commands. The basal forebrain is responsible for modulating cortical activity in attention and memory. The limbic system includes deep cerebral nuclei that are responsible for emotion and memory.

The diencephalon includes the thalamus and the hypothalamus, along with some other structures. The thalamus is a relay between the cerebrum and the rest of the nervous system. The hypothalamus coordinates homeostatic functions through the autonomic and endocrine systems.

The brain stem is composed of the midbrain, pons, and medulla. It controls the head and neck region of the body through the cranial nerves. There are control centers in the brain stem that regulate the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

The cerebellum is connected to the brain stem, primarily at the pons, where it receives a copy of the descending input from the cerebrum to the spinal cord. It can compare this with sensory feedback input through the medulla and send output through the midbrain that can correct motor commands for coordination.

Watch this video to learn about the basal nuclei (also known as the basal ganglia), which have two pathways that process information within the cerebrum. As shown in this video, the direct pathway is the shorter pathway through the system that results in increased activity in the cerebral cortex and increased motor activity. The direct pathway is described as resulting in “disinhibition” of the thalamus. What does disinhibition mean? What are the two neurons doing individually to cause this?

Both cells are inhibitory. The first cell inhibits the second one. Therefore, the second cell can no longer inhibit its target. This is disinhibition of that target across two synapses.

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Watch this video to learn about the basal nuclei (also known as the basal ganglia), which have two pathways that process information within the cerebrum. As shown in this video, the indirect pathway is the longer pathway through the system that results in decreased activity in the cerebral cortex, and therefore less motor activity. The indirect pathway has an extra couple of connections in it, including disinhibition of the subthalamic nucleus. What is the end result on the thalamus, and therefore on movement initiated by the cerebral cortex?

By disinhibiting the subthalamic nucleus, the indirect pathway increases excitation of the globus pallidus internal segment. That, in turn, inhibits the thalamus, which is the opposite effect of the direct pathway that disinhibits the thalamus.

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Watch this video to learn about the gray matter of the spinal cord that receives input from fibers of the dorsal (posterior) root and sends information out through the fibers of the ventral (anterior) root. As discussed in this video, these connections represent the interactions of the CNS with peripheral structures for both sensory and motor functions. The cervical and lumbar spinal cords have enlargements as a result of larger populations of neurons. What are these enlargements responsible for?

There are more motor neurons in the anterior horns that are responsible for movement in the limbs. The cervical enlargement is for the arms, and the lumbar enlargement is for the legs.

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Compared with the nearest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee, the human has a brain that is huge. At a point in the past, a common ancestor gave rise to the two species of humans and chimpanzees. That evolutionary history is long and is still an area of intense study. But something happened to increase the size of the human brain relative to the chimpanzee. Read this article in which the author explores the current understanding of why this happened.

According to one hypothesis about the expansion of brain size, what tissue might have been sacrificed so energy was available to grow our larger brain? Based on what you know about that tissue and nervous tissue, why would there be a trade-off between them in terms of energy use?

Energy is needed for the brain to develop and perform higher cognitive functions. That energy is not available for the muscle tissues to develop and function. The hypothesis suggests that humans have larger brains and less muscle mass, and chimpanzees have the smaller brains but more muscle mass.

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Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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