Quantitative assessment of prefrontal cortex in humans relative to nonhuman primates

Chad J. Donahue, Matthew F. Glasser, Todd M. Preuss, James K. Rilling, David C. Van Essen

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153 Scopus citations


Humans have the largest cerebral cortex among primates. The question of whether association cortex, particularly prefrontal cortex (PFC), is disproportionately larger in humans compared with nonhuman primates is controversial: Some studies report that human PFC is relatively larger, whereas others report a more uniform PFC scaling. We address this controversy using MRI-derived cortical surfaces of many individual humans, chimpanzees, and macaques. We present two parcellation-based PFC delineations based on cytoarchitecture and function and show that a previously used morphological surrogate (cortex anterior to the genu of the corpus callosum) substantially underestimates PFC extent, especially in humans. We find that the proportion of cortical gray matter occupied by PFC in humans is up to 1.9-fold greater than in macaques and 1.2-fold greater than in chimpanzees. The disparity is even more prominent for the proportion of subcortical white matter underlying the PFC, which is 2.4-fold greater in humans than in macaques and 1.7-fold greater than in chimpanzees.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E5183-E5192
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - May 29 2018


  • Chimpanzee
  • Cortical parcellation
  • Evolution
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Prefrontal cortex


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