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Why are our brains wrinkly?

Why are our brains wrinkly?
Collis School Yr 6 from Surrey (age 5-14)


Brains in vertebrates have a top layer, the cerebral cortex, and this is responsible for lots of functions, such as vision, hearing, sensation, motor control, as well as many of the more complex ways in which our senses and motor acts can interact (e.g. how we think when we try to solve problems, how we pay attention to things). The surface of the cortex in larger mammals is folded up so that a greater surface area can be fitted into a skull. The cortex makes up more than 75% of the weight of the human brain, a greater proportion than any other animal. Our brains look even more wrinkly than any other animals because even more cortex is being folded up, to fit it all into the human skull.

Prof. Sophie K Scott, Wellcome Senior Fellow, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London


2 Responses

  1. The brain being wrinkly is another example of a very common phenomenon in Biology. The brain has a job and needs to be a certain size/complexity to be able to carry out its function. The space in which it fits is finite, so the only way it can achieve the suitable area for neural connections is to increase it’s surface area by being wrinkly. Other examples are the alveolar surface area of the lungs, the absorption surface area of the vili and micro-villi in the small intestine, the surface of a red blood cell.

  2. All mammals face complex tasks but not all brains are wrinkly. The rat brain, for example, has no wrinkles at all. The reason that wrinkles arise lies in the connections between different parts of the brain surface. Parts which are connected tend to be closer together, as if attracted by a rubber band, and will be within the folds of the brain. Disconnected parts are not restricted in their position and can be further apart; they will appear on the surface of the brain. This is the mechanism how wrinkles arise. Compared to humans, in the rat brain parts are more often connected so there will be no bulges on the surface.

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