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REVIEW ARTICLE
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 126-130

Von Economo neurons: A review of the anatomy and functions


Department of Human Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Kaduna State 81006, Nigeria

Correspondence Address:
Augustine Oseloka Ibegbu
Department of Human Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State 81006
Nigeria
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/1596-2393.177023

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Von Economo neurons (VENs) are large bipolar neurons found in the anterior cingulate, fronto-insular, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices of great apes and the humans. VENs are defined by their thin, elongated cell body, and long dendrites projecting from the apical and basal ends. These neurons are mostly present in particularly high densities in cetaceans, elephants, and hominoid primates mainly, humans and apes. VENs have been shown to contribute in the specializations of neural circuits in species that share both large brain size and complex social cognition due to their location. This could possibly be due to the adaptation to rapidly relay of socially-relevant information over long distances across the brain. The VENs have been shown to be recently evolved cell type that may be involved in the fast intuitive assessment of complex social situations. As such, they could be the part of the circuitry supporting human social networks. The VENs emerge mainly after birth and increase in number until 4 years of age. The presence of VENs in the fronto-insular cortex has been linked to a possible role in the integration of bodily feelings, emotional regulation, and goal-directed behaviors. Some studies have shown decreased number of VENs in neuropsychiatric diseases, in which social cognition is markedly affected. Some researchers have shown that selective destruction of VENs in the early stages of frontotemporal dementia implies that they are involved in empathy, social awareness, and self-control which are consistent with evidence from functional imaging.


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