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Keywords:

  • somatosensory cortex;
  • Etruscan shrew;
  • comparative cortical scaling;
  • cytoarchitecture

Abstract

The Etruscan shrew, Suncus etruscus, is one of the smallest mammals. Etruscan shrews can recognize prey shape with amazing speed and accuracy, based on whisker-mediated tactile cues. Because of its small size, quantitative analysis of the Etruscan shrew cortex is more tractable than in other animals. To quantitatively assess the anatomy of the Etruscan shrew's brain, we sectioned brains and applied Nissl staining and NeuN (neuronal nuclei) antibody staining. On the basis of these stains, we estimated the number of neurons of 10 cortical hemispheres by using Stereoinvestigator and Neurolucida (MBF Bioscience) software. On average, the neuron number per hemisphere was found to be ∼1 million. We also measured cortical surface area and found an average of 11.1 mm2 (n = 7) and an average volume of 5.3 mm3 (n = 10) per hemisphere. We identified 13 cortical regions by cytoarchitectonic boundaries in coronal, sagittal, and tangential sections processed for Nissl substance, myelin, cytochrome oxidase, ionic zinc, neurofilaments, and vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGluT2). The Etruscan shrew is a highly tactile animal with a large somatosensory cortex, which contains a barrel field, but the barrels are much less clearly defined than in rodents. The anatomically derived cortical partitioning scheme roughly corresponds to physiologically derived maps of neocortical sensory areas. J. Comp. Neurol. 520:2512–2530, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.