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Chimpanzee Brain Development

October 9, 2012

The insulation surrounding nerves develops more quickly in chimpanzees than in humans.



Great ape brains…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Myelin is fatty tissue that insulates neurons, and it’s essential for the rapid and coordinated signaling in our brains that makes higher thought possible. The process of nerve myelination begins in the womb and takes off once a baby is born. Now, scientists have discovered that the brains of our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, go through myelination earlier and faster than ours do. George Washington University evolutionary anatomist Chet Sherwood explains.

CHET SHERWOOD (George Washington University):

Humans are born with relatively little myelin content in the cerebral cortex compared to chimpanzees, that means our brains are really under maturated at the time of birth compared to chimpanzees. What it is to be human is based on the way our brains grow and develop.


The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

A comparison of human (top) and chimpanzee (bottom) skulls and brains, as depicted by 19th century artist Paul Gervais. (Paul Gervais, 1854/Wikimedia Commons)