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Keywords:

  • brain language areas;
  • evolution;
  • polymodal language;
  • primates;
  • dyslexia;
  • comparative neurobiology;
  • great apes

Abstract

We have previously demonstrated that leftward asymmetry of the planum temporale (PT), a brain language area, was not unique to humans since a similar condition is present in great apes. Here we report on a related area in great apes, the planum parietale (PP). PP in humans has a rightward asymmetry with no correlation to the L>R PT, which indicates functional independence. The roles of the PT in human language are well known while PP is implicated in dyslexia and communication disorders. Since posterior bifurcation of the sylvian fissure (SF) is unique to humans and great apes, we used it to determine characteristics of its posterior ascending ramus, an indicator of the PP, in chimpanzee and orangutan brains. Results showed a human-like pattern of R>L PP (P = 0.04) in chimpanzees with a nonsignificant negative correlation of L>R PT vs. R>L PP (CC = −0.3; P = 0.39). In orangutans, SF anatomy is more variable, although PP was nonsignificantly R>L in three of four brains (P = 0.17). We have now demonstrated human-like hemispheric asymmetry of a second language-related brain area in great apes. Our findings persuasively support an argument for addition of a new component to the comparative neuroanatomic complex that defines brain language or polymodal communication areas. PP strengthens the evolutionary links that living great apes may offer to better understand the origins of these progressive parts of the brain. Evidence mounts for the stable expression of a neural foundation for language in species that we recently shared a common ancestor with. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.