Monday, February 25, 2013

Spindle Neurons (von Economo)

Spindle neurons are also known as VENs or von Economo neurons, named after Constantin von Economo who described them in 1929. These unusual-shaped neurons form a specific class and come in clusters of only 3-6. Unlike most other types of neurons that have multiple dendrites, VENs have a single axon that goes in one direction with a single dendrite facing the opposite direction. VENs have been identified in the anterior cingulate cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the fronto-insular cortex of the human brain. Studies have shown that the brains of some Super Ages had four times as many of these spindle neurons compared to the brains of other older individuals. VENs  are believed to impact higher-order thinking. Interestingly enough, these neurons have also been discovered in some other species:  whales (e.g., killer, sperm, fin, humpback, beluga); dolphins (bottlenose, Risso’s); African and Asian elephants; great apes. According to Wikipedia, scientists have implicated spindle neurons as having an important role in many cognitive abilities and disabilities generally unique to humans (e.g., savant perceptiveness, perfect pitch, dyslexia, autism).

No comments: