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Like Those in Humans, Baby Chimps' Forebrains Immature

THURSDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Like humans, chimpanzees are born with immature forebrains, according to researchers who used MRI to track the development of three chimpanzees' brains from ages 6 months to 6 years.

At birth, areas of the brain that play an important role in complex cognitive functions such as decision making, self-awareness and creativity are immature in both chimps and humans, the Japanese scientists said.

The scientists also noted that both chimpanzees and humans enjoy close relationships between infants and adults, as suggested by smiles and mutual gazes.

But they found that baby chimpanzees don't have the same dramatic increase in the volume of prefrontal white matter that occurs in human infants.

The study, published Aug. 11 in the journal Current Biology, is the first to follow the development of the chimpanzee brain and compare it to the human brain.

"One of the most marked evolutionary changes underlying human-specific cognitive traits is a greatly enlarged prefrontal cortex," Tetsuro Matsuzawa, of Kyoto University, said in a journal news release. "It is also one of the latest-developing brain regions of the cerebrum."

This development delay may provide both young humans and chimps an extended period of brain plasticity in order to allow them time to develop complex social interactions, knowledge and skill shaped by life experiences, the scientists suggested.

More information

The University of Washington has more about brain development.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Current Biology, news release, Aug. 11, 2011

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