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Asymmetric Broca's area in great apes

A region of the ape brain is uncannily similar to one linked with speech in humans.

Abstract

Brodmann's area 44 delineates part of Broca's area within the inferior frontal gyrus of the human brain and is a critical region for speech production1,2, being larger in the left hemisphere than in the right1,2,3,4 — an asymmetry that has been correlated with language dominance2,3. Here we show that there is a similar asymmetry in this area, also with left-hemisphere dominance, in three great ape species (Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus and Gorilla gorilla). Our findings suggest that the neuroanatomical substrates for left-hemisphere dominance in speech production were evident at least five million years ago and are not unique to hominid evolution.

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Figure 1: Asymmetry of Brodmann's area 44 in great apes.

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Correspondence to Claudio Cantalupo.

Supplementary information

Table 1. Area 44 mean surface area measures. Because studies in humans have shown that Broca’s area asymmetries are more reliably detected when both extrasulcal and intrasulcal portions of cortex are considered1,2, we traced area 44 in consecutive sagittal slices from the lateral surface of IFG to the most medial slice immediately preceding the insula. The average number of slices traced per hemisphere for the whole sample was 7.2 (+ 0.189 SE). For each subject, mean surface area values of area 44 in each hemisphere were computed both for all the slices together (values shown in table) and separately for the more lateral and more medial slices. The latter measures were employed in a 2 (left vs. right hemisphere) x 2(lateral vs. medial slices) x 2(male vs. female) ANOVA. This analysis revealed that the surface area of area 44 in the great apes was overall larger in the left hemisphere than the right (F(1,25) = 7.45, P = 0.011). Area 44 was also found to be overall larger in the medial as compared to the lateral portion of IFG (F(1,25) = 4.45, P = 0.045). There was no main effect of sex, and no statistically significant interactions.

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Cantalupo, C., Hopkins, W. Asymmetric Broca's area in great apes. Nature 414, 505 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35107134

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