[Neuroscience] The Humanity of Whaling

John H. via neur-sci%40net.bio.net (by j_hasenkam At yahoo.com.au)
Wed Nov 29 21:58:19 EST 2006

John had a hunch. After reading Goldberg's text, the Wisdom Paradox,
where he made a big deal out of "spindle cells", I thought this article
may refer to the same and sure enough. Very interesting how one type of
cell can be so important. In this regard spindle cells fit the picture
because they have multiple long reaching connections across the
neocortex, particularly the right side. Just what you need for
polymodal association. Squid and the like are really smart, I wonder
... . Now if only I really knew something about spindle cells ...


Whale brains are part human

Humpback whales have a type of brain cell seen only in humans, the
great apes, and other cetaceans such as dolphins, US researchers

This might mean such whales are more intelligent than they have been
given credit for, the scientists say.

And it suggests the basis for complex brains either evolved more than
once, or has gone unused by most animal species.

The finding may help explain some whale behaviours, such as intricate
communication skills, the formation of alliances, cooperation, cultural
transmission and the use of tools, the researchers report in journal
The Anatomical Record

Professor Patrick Hof and colleagues from the Mount Sinai School of
Medicine (http://www.mssm.edu/) in New York discovered a type of cell
called a spindle neurone in the cortex of the whale brains.

They found the cells in areas comparable to where they are seen in
humans and great apes.

Although the function of spindle neurones is not well understood, they
may be involved in cognition - learning, remembering and recognising
the world.

Spindle cells may be affected by Alzheimer's disease and other
debilitating brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Complex social patterns

The researches found spindle neurones in the same location in toothed
whales with the largest brains, which the researchers say suggests the
cells may be related to brain size.

Toothed whales such as orcas are generally considered more intelligent
than baleen whales such as humpbacks and blue whales, which filter
water for their food.

The humpbacks also have structures that resemble 'islands' in the
cerebral cortex, also seen in some other mammals.

These islands may have evolved to promote fast and efficient
communication between neurones, the researchers say.

Spindle neurones probably first appeared in the common ancestor of
hominids, humans and great apes about 15 million years ago, the
researchers say. They are not seen in lesser apes or monkeys.

In cetaceans they would have evolved earlier, possibly as early as 30
million years ago, the researchers say.

How did these cells evolve?

Either the spindle neurones were only kept in the animals with the
largest brains or they evolved several times independently, the
researchers say.

"In spite of the relative scarcity of information on many cetacean
species, it is important to note in this context that sperm whales,
killer whales, and certainly humpback whales, exhibit complex social
patterns that included intricate communication skills,
coalition-formation, cooperation, cultural transmission and tool
usage," the researchers write.

"It is thus likely that some of these abilities are related to
comparable histological complexity in brain organisation in cetaceans
and in hominids."

30/11/2006 12:50PM
On the Beach,

John Hasenkam

All outgoing and incoming emails virus scanned by Westnet, and AVG.
Sort of, maybe ....

"Prod any happy person and you will find a project."

P. 73, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Richard Layard.

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