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Keywords:

  • auditory cortex;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • neural development

Abstract

The formation of synaptic contacts in human cerebral cortex was compared in two cortical regions: auditory cortex (Heschl's gyrus) and prefrontal cortex (middle frontal gyrus). Synapse formation in both cortical regions begins in the fetus, before conceptual age 27 weeks. Synaptic density increases more rapidly in auditory cortex, where the maximum is reached near postnatal age 3 months. Maximum synaptic density in middle frontal gyrus is not reached until after age 15 months. Synaptogenesis occurs concurrently with dendritic and axonal growth and with myelination of the subcortical white matter. A phase of net synapse elimination occurs late in childhood, earlier in auditory cortex, where it has ended by age 12 years, than in prefrontal cortex, where it extends to midadolescence. Synaptogenesis and synapse elimination in humans appear to be heterochronous in different cortical regions and, in that respect, appears to differ from the rhesus monkey, where they are concurrent. In other respects, including overproduction of synaptic contacts in infancy, persistence of high levels of synaptic density to late childhood or adolescence, the absolute values of maximum and adult synaptic density, and layer specific differences, findings in the human resemble those in rhesus monkeys. J. Comp. Neurol. 387:167–178, 1997. © 1997 Wiley-Liss, Inc.