Research Press Release

Studying monkey and human brain similarities

Nature Methods

February 6, 2012

A method to find regions of the brain with similar function in both monkeys and humans is reported online this week in Nature Methods. This method could open new avenues for building more accurate evolutionary models.Previous studies have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare how the brains of human and non-human species respond to a particular stimulus or activity. To interpret comparative fMRI studies, researchers often rely on prior knowledge of the anatomical similarity between brain regions.Wim Vanduffel and colleagues developed a technique, interspecies activity correlation (ISAC), which can help find regions with similar functions without considering differences in the brains’ anatomy. The ISAC method is based on the premise that functionally corresponding regions should have a similar time course of activity in both species if they respond to the same features—for example, hands, faces, objects and so on—even if their anatomical location differs.The authors validate the ISAC method by studying the similarities in fMRI responses between humans and monkeys exposed to the same clips from the movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Their findings suggest that some human and monkey brain areas might have been functionally reorganized in unexpected ways.In an accompanying News and Views article, Tor Wager and Tal Yarkoni discuss some of the limitations and challenges that the method faces and the importance of corroborating the putative homologies in future studies.


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