Humpback whales share brain cells with humans
Last Updated: Monday, November 27, 2006 | 1:12 PM ET
Humpback whales have joined an exclusive evolutionary club alongside humans, gorillas and dolphins, thanks to the discovery of a particular type of brain cell in the large aquatic mammals.
The brains of humpback whales contain spindle neurons, a kind of brain cell found in the cerebral cortex in large primates like humans and gorillas, according to a study published online on Monday.
Patrick R. Hof and Estel Van der Gucht of the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York published their findings in The Anatomical Record, the official journal of the American Association of Anatomists.
The authors found humpback whales not only had spindle neurons in the same area of the cortex where they are found in hominids, but also in other parts of their brain.
Named for their long, spindle-shaped bodies, spindle neurons are a complex and not completely understood cellular structure found in the brains of larger primates and cetaceans, the group of marine mammals that includes whales and dolphins.
They are thought to be involved in cognitive processes such as learning, remembering and recognizing, and are affected by conditions like Alzheimer's disease, autism and schizophrenia. In humans, they occur in the part of the brain thought to control speech, social organization and empathy.
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Anthony H. Risser | neuroscience | neuropsychology | brain