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Keywords:

  • cerebral cortex;
  • evolution;
  • gyrus;
  • neocortex;
  • sulcus

Abstract

Why the extent of cortical gyrification varies across mammals of different brain sizes is a problem that is not clearly understood. The aim of the present study was to test a hypothesis indicating that the order is a significant phylogenetic grouping in terms of quantifiable gyrification indices (GIs) and thus variation between mammals. The GI was determined from serial sections of the brain of 25 different mammalian species, representing four different orders: primates, carnivores, ungulates and rodents. Image J analysis was used to measure the contours of the cerebral cortex, and the GI was calculated using three different methods of analysis: complete vs outer; gyral vs sulcal; and outer vs inner surface contours. The measurements were then computed against the brain weights of each species within the order. An increasing GI correlates with an increasing brain weight in all the mammalian orders. Each order has its own specific allometric pattern that is significantly different from the other orders. The ungulates were the mammals with the most gyrencephalic brains, these species being significantly more gyrencephalic than all other mammals when species of similar brain weights are compared. The North American beaver has an atypically lissencephalic brain for its size, differing from the trend for increased gyrencephaly found in the other rodent species examined. Our results show definite trends and patterns specific to each order; thus, it would seem that the order is a significant phylogenetic grouping in terms of this neural parameter, from which we can predict with a reasonable degree of certainty the GI of any species of a particular order given the brain weight.