Von Economo's neurons attract the attention of science more and more. Although they were discovered from the year 1925, only until the 21st century they began to be thoroughly studied. In fact, very little is still known about them, but there is the certainty that they are determinants in the human brain.
Von Economo neurons are known to be scarce. The human brain has about 100 billion neurons and only between 200,000 and 400,000 are Von Economo. It is also known to be three times larger than normal neurons and also faster.
The most recent studies indicate that Von Economo neurons are a kind of "conductor" of our brain. This means that they do not act against a specific organ or function, but that They determine the way in which the brain must act. They do not produce thoughts, but they do allow them to be generated.
What are Von Economo neurons?
Von Economo neurons, also called spindle neurons, are present in humans and some animals.
Von Economo neurons are a specific type of neuron. They are found in very narrow areas of the brain: the insula and the anterior cingulum gyrus (CCA). They are also called "spindle neurons" and are only present in humans, humpback whales, killer whales, bottlenose and Risso dolphins, Asian and African elephants, sperm whales, beluga and whales.
The first description of Von Economo neurons was made by Constain Von Economo and in his honor they bear that name. He mentioned them for the first time in his work The cytoarchitecture of the cortex of the adult human being. The description of lethargic encephalitis is also due to this neurologist and psychiatrist.
This scientist pointed out that it was neurons in a different way than the others. He pointed out that they were elongated, spindle-shaped, that is, cylindrical, elongated and narrower at the ends. He also indicated what his location was. It was after 2000 when they began to be studied in detail.
You may be interested: What is the neuroendocrine system?
Characteristics of Von Economo neurons
Thanks to the computational mapping of the brain these neurons began to be studied in detail. It was discovered that Von Economo have been present in hominids for 15 million years. There is a more abundant amount of these neurons in human brains and great apes.
In humans, they appear during pregnancy, approximately at week 35. Their number increases gradually until 4 years of age. The first eight months of life are the moment when their development occurs more quickly.
At the time of birth there is a similar number of these cells in both cerebral hemispheres. Then, they tend to be more numerous in the right hemisphere. These neurons have dopamine receptors, vasopressin and serotonin, substances closely related to human behavior.
It is believed that these neurons are involved in processes such as self formation, decision making and social connection.
So far it has been established that Von Ecomo neurons are involved in the formation of self or identity, decision making, social connection, concentration and supervision of other areas of the brain.
They also perform a complex and fundamental function. It consists of comparing the signals that arise from the brain itself, with the signals that are perceived by the senses. That is, they provide us with what we call "sense of reality."
Because of their size, these neurons quickly communicate large areas of the brain. Scientists believe that deficiencies in its functioning are related to problems such as autism and dyslexia. They also believe that these cells could explain the emergence of that entity we call "mind."
Don't stop reading: 5 simple habits to regenerate your neurons (neurogenesis)
Von Ecomo's mind and neurons
Everything indicates that Von Ecomo neurons they influence healthy social connections, as well as self-awareness processes. A study conducted by the neurologist W. Seeley, at the University of California, found that there was damage to these neurons in those with frontal-temporal dementia.
This is a disease in which those affected lose all capacity for empathy. They are erratic, insensitive and lose their sense of responsibility, even with themselves. Seeley did several autopsies on those who suffered from this evil and found that, On average, 70% of Von Ecomo neurons were damaged.
Other neurophysiologists, such as Naomi Eisenberger and Cole Steve, have pointed out that social connection strongly influences health. Those who are well connected with others suffer from less illness and tend to live longer.
The presence of these neurons in highly social animals reinforces the idea that these neurons determine the sociability and the processes associated with it. As a curiosity, The use of psychedelic drugs inhibits the activity of the areas where these neurons are housed.