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Neocortical neuron morphology in Afrotheria: comparing the rock hyrax with the African elephant


  • See Dell et al.16 for a discussion of the monophyletic or diphyletic origins of chiropterans.

Address for correspondence: Serena Bianchi, Department of Anthropology, The George Washington University, 2110 G St, NW Washington, DC 20052.


The mammalian neocortex contains a great variety of neuronal types. In particular, recent studies have shown substantial morphological diversity among spiny projecting neurons in species that diverged close to the base of the mammalian radiation (e.g., monotremes, afrotherians, and xenarthrans). Here, we used a Golgi technique to examine different neuronal morphologies in an afrotherian species, the rock hyrax (Procavia capensis), and provide a comparison with the related African elephant (Loxodonta africana). Results showed that spiny neurons in the rock hyrax neocortex exhibit less morphological variation than in elephants, displaying a higher frequency of relatively “typical” pyramidal neurons. A quantitative comparison of rock hyrax pyramidal neuron morphology between frontal and visual areas, moreover, revealed greater spine density of neurons in frontal cortex, but no differences in other morphological aspects. Regional variations in pyramidal structure have also been observed in the African elephant, as well as a number of primate species.

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