Comparison of estimates of neuronal number obtained using the isotropic fractionator method and unbiased stereology in day old chicks (Gallus domesticus).
Long projection axons from the Ch4 cell group of the nucleus basalis of Meynert (nbM) provide cholinergic innervation to the neurons of the cerebral cortex. This cortical cholinergic innervation has been implicated in behavioral and cognitive functions, including learning and memory. Recent evidence revealed differences among primate species in the pattern of cholinergic innervation specific to the prefrontal cortex. While macaques displayed denser cholinergic innervation in layers I and II relative to layers V and VI, in chimpanzees and humans, layers V and VI were as heavily innervated as the supragranular layers. Furthermore, clusters of cholinergic axons were observed within the prefrontal cortex of both humans and chimpanzees to the exclusion of macaque monkeys, and were most commonly seen in humans. The aim of the present study was to determine whether the Ch4 cell group was modified during evolution of anthropoid primates as a possible correlate of these changes in cortical cholinergic innervation. We used stereologic methods to estimate the total number of choline acetyltransferase-immunoreactive magnocellular neurons within the nbM of New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, apes, and humans. Linear regression analyses were used to examine the relationship of the Ch4 cell group with neocortical volume and brain mass. Results showed that total nbM neuron numbers hyposcale relative to both neocortical volume and brain mass. Notably, the total number of nbM neurons in humans were included within the 95% confidence intervals for the prediction generated from nonhuman data. In conclusion, while differences in the cholinergic system exist among primate species, such changes appear to involve mostly axon collateral terminations within the neocortex and, with the exception of the relatively small group of cholinergic cells of the subputaminal subdivision of the nbM at the anterointermediate and rostrolateral levels, are not accompanied by a significant extra-allometric increase in the overall number of subcortical neurons that provide that innervation.