Primate prefrontal cortex evolution: human brains are the extreme of a lateralized ape trend.
The prefrontal cortex is commonly associated with cognitive capacities related to human uniqueness: purposeful actions towards higher-level goals, complex social information processing, introspection, and language. Comparative investigations of the prefrontal cortex may thus shed more light on the neural underpinnings of what makes us human. Using histological data from 19 anthropoid primate species (6 apes including humans and 13 monkeys), we investigate cross-species relative size changes along the anterior (prefrontal) and posterior (motor) axes of the cytoarchitectonically defined frontal lobe in both hemispheres. Results reveal different scaling coefficients in the left versus right prefrontal hemisphere, suggest that the primary factor underlying the evolution of primate brain architecture is left hemispheric prefrontal hyperscaling, and indicate that humans are the extreme of a left prefrontal ape specialization in relative white to grey matter volume. These results demonstrate a neural adaptive shift distinguishing the ape from the monkey radiation possibly related to a cognitive grade shift between (great) apes and other primates.