Brain cells that give humans higher cognitive abilities than other animals are also linked to neurological disorders like schizophrenia, autism and epilepsy, a new study finds
- Scientists have sought to discover what in the brain gives humans greater cognitive abilities than other animals
- A Yale team analyzed brain cells from humans and primates
- They found five that are unique to humans, in particular an immune cell in the brain
- This cell is also linked to neurological disorders, but experts say it could be what gives us our abilities
Scientists have identified an immune brain cell unique to humans that gives us higher cognitive abilities than other animals, but what makes us special also makes us vulnerable to neurological disorders like schizophrenia, autism and epilepsy, according to a new study.
A team of Yale neuroscientists analyzed cells found in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the region involved in executive control functions, which is shared between humans and primates and narrowed it down to just five found only in the human brain , including an immune cell called microglia.
Microglia help maintain the brain rather than prevent disease and include a gene, not present in primates, associated with neuropsychiatric diseases.
Lead author Nenad Sestan said we can “consider the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex the central element of human identity, but we still don’t know what makes it unique in humans and sets us apart from others. primate species.
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Scientists have been on a long quest to find out what in the brain gives humans superior cognitive abilities than other animals. Yale team says they’ve found clues in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – an immune cell in the brain
The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is responsible for task switching and reconfiguration, interference avoidance, inhibition planning, and working memory
Microglia are present from development through adulthood, but scientists suspect it has implications for vulnerability to certain psychiatric disorders as individuals mature through adolescence.
“Comparative studies suggest that human neurobiological development is unique,” according to the team.
“For example, humans differ from other primates in extending a rapid, fetal-like rate of brain mass growth into the first postnatal year, thereby reaching relatively large adult brain size.”
The team found that the prefrontal cortex is present in humans and primates
The team analyzed more than 600,000 cell clusters from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in primates (pictured) and humans. The results showed that a single immune cell responsible for maintaining the human brain could be involved in our high level of cognition
However, they wanted to find clues about what gives us superior cognition.
The team examined more than 600,000 single-nucleus transcriptomes from adult humans, chimpanzees, macaques and marmosets in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC).
This led them to identify which cells are unique to which species.
“We humans live in a very different environment with a unique way of life compared to other primate species; and glial cells, including microglia, are highly sensitive to these differences,” Sestan said in a statement.
“The type of microglia found in the human brain may represent an immune response to the environment.”
When the team analyzed microglia, they discovered the presence of the FOXP2 gene and variations in it have been linked to dyspraxia verbalis, a condition in which patients have difficulty producing language or speech.
Other studies have also shown that FOXP2 is associated with other neuropsychiatric diseases, such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy.
Sestan and colleagues found that this gene exhibits primate-specific expression in a subset of excitatory neurons and human-specific expression in microglia.
Shaojie Ma, a postdoctoral associate at the Sestan lab and co-lead author, said in a statement: “FOXP2 has intrigued many scientists for decades, but we still had no idea what makes it unique in humans. compared to other primate species.
“We are extremely excited about the findings of FOXP2 as they open up new directions in the study of language and disease.”
Brain cells that give humans higher cognitive abilities are linked to neurological disorders