Friday, April 2, 2010

Inside the chimpanzee brain

Emory MRIs of chimp (left) and human heads reveal differences and similarities.

Science magazine writes about pathbreaking brain studies at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center:

Lying inside the missile-like MRI tube this morning while foghorn-like blasts of sound fill the room is a 26-year-old female chimpanzee named Melinda. The 74-kilogram, hairy hulk rests on a gurney, with a heating pad over her chest and an intubation tube delivering a sedative gas. The only thing visible is the top of her skull, which has been outfitted with a helmet called a "head coil" that transmits and receives the radio frequencies. ..

This bizarre scene might look like something out of a sci-fi horror flick, but as Yerkes neuroanatomist Todd Preuss emphasizes, appearances can be deceptive. The MRI emits no radiation and is something of a gentle giant, affording researchers a unique view into the hidden architecture of the body's soft tissues without causing harm. "This is completely noninvasive," says Preuss. "It's the kind of procedure we'd do with a human."

Melinda is the 29th chimpanzee that Preuss and anthropologist James Rilling of Emory have scanned as part of a study that will examine the aging of their brains in relationship to humans, including people with Alzheimer's, a disease that does not appear to afflict chimps. "No one has ever compared human brain aging with brain aging in our closet living relative to identify what's really distinctive about humans," says Rilling.

Read the full article in Science.

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