Evolutionary expansion of connectivity between multimodal association areas in the human brain compared with chimpanzees

Dirk Jan Ardesch, Lianne H. Scholtens, Longchuan Li, Todd M. Preuss, James K. Rilling, Martijn P. van den Heuvel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The development of complex cognitive functions during human evolution coincides with pronounced encephalization and expansion of white matter, the brain’s infrastructure for region-to-region communication. We investigated adaptations of the human macroscale brain network by comparing human brain wiring with that of the chimpanzee, one of our closest living primate relatives. White matter connectivity networks were reconstructed using diffusion-weighted MRI in humans (n = 57) and chimpanzees (n = 20) and then analyzed using network neuroscience tools. We demonstrate higher network centrality of connections linking multimodal association areas in humans compared with chimpanzees, together with a more pronounced modular topology of the human connectome. Furthermore, connections observed in humans but not in chimpanzees particularly link multimodal areas of the temporal, lateral parietal, and inferior frontal cortices, including tracts important for language processing. Network analysis demonstrates a particularly high contribution of these connections to global network integration in the human brain. Taken together, our comparative connectome findings suggest an evolutionary shift in the human brain toward investment of neural resources in multimodal connectivity facilitating neural integration, combined with an increase in language-related connectivity supporting functional specialization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7101-7106
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
Early online date18 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.


  • Chimpanzee
  • Comparative
  • Connectome
  • Connectomics
  • Evolution
  • Multimodal


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