Allman, J. M., Watson, K. K., Tetreault, N. A., & Hakeem, A. Y. (2005). Intuition and autism: a possible role for Von Economo neurons. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(8), 367-373.

Von Economo neurons (VENs) are a recently evolved cell type which may be involved in the fast intuitive assessment of complex situations. As such, they could be part of the circuitry supporting human social networks. We propose that the VENs relay an output of fronto-insular and anterior cingulate cortex to the parts of frontal and temporal cortex associated with theory-of-mind, where fast intuitions are melded with slower, deliberative judgments. The VENs emerge mainly after birth and increase in number until age 4 yrs. We propose that in autism spectrum disorders the VENs fail to develop normally, and that this failure might be partially responsible for the associated social disabilities that result from faulty intuition.

Elston, G. N., Benavides-Piccione, R., Elston, A., Zietsch, B., Defelipe, J., Manger, P., et al. (2006). Specializations of the granular prefrontal cortex of primates: Implications for cognitive processing. Anatomical Record Part a-Discoveries in Molecular Cellular and Evolutionary Biology, 288A(1), 26-35.

The biological underpinnings of human intelligence remain enigmatic. There remains the greatest confusion and controversy regarding mechanisms that enable humans to conceptualize, plan, and prioritize, and why they are set apart from other animals in their cognitive abilities. Here we demonstrate that the basic neuronal building block of the cerebral cortex, the pyramidal cell, is characterized by marked differences in structure among primate species. Moreover, comparison of the complexity of neuron structure with the size of the cortical area/region in which the cells are located revealed that trends in the granular prefrontal cortex (gPFC) were dramatically different to those in visual cortex. More specifically, pyramidal cells in the gPFC of humans had a disproportionately high number of spines. ......... cortical circuits composed of neurons with distinguishable morphologies will likely be characterized by different functional capabilities. ,........In particular, the highly branched, spinous neurons in the human gPFC may be a key component of human intelligence. (C) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Ramus, F. (2006). Genes, brain, and cognition: A roadmap for the cognitive scientist. Cognition, 101(2), 247-269.

This paper reviews current progress in genetics in relation to the understanding of human cognition. It is argued that genetics occupies a prominent place in the future of cognitive science, and that cognitive scientists should play an active role in the process. Recent research in genetics and developmental neuroscience is reviewed and argued to provide a new perspective on the timeless questions of innateness and modularity. The special case of the genetic bases of language is further discussed, with the study of developmental dyslexia as an exemplary entry point. This Special Issue puts together articles providing different empirical examples and theoretical perspectives on how the integration between the different levels of description (gene, brain, and cognition) is to be achieved. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Sikela, J. M. (2006). The jewels of our genome: The search for the genomic changes underlying the evolutionarily unique capacities of the human brain. Plos Genetics, 2(5), 646-655.

The recent publication of the initial sequence and analysis of the chimp genome allows us, for the first time, to compare our genome with that of our closest living evolutionary relative. With more primate genome sequences being pursued, and with other genome-wide, cross-species comparative techniques emerging, we are entering an era in which we will be able to carry out genomic comparisons of unprecedented scope and detail. These studies should yield a bounty of new insights about the genes and genomic features that are unique to our species as well as those that are unique to other primate lineages, and may begin to causally link some of these to lineage-specific phenotypic characteristics. The most intriguing potential of these new approaches will be in the area of evolutionary neurogenomics and in the possibility that the key human lineage-specific (HLS) genomic changes that underlie the evolution of the human brain will be identified. Such new knowledge should provide fresh insights into neuronal development and higher cognitive function and dysfunction, and may possibly uncover biological mechanisms for information storage, analysis, and retrieval never previously seen.

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