Sourcing high tissue quality brains from deceased wild primates with known socio-ecology

EBC Consortium

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The selection pressures that drove dramatic encephalisation processes through the mammal lineage remain elusive, as does knowledge of brain structure reorganisation through this process. In particular, considerable structural brain changes are present across the primate lineage, culminating in the complex human brain that allows for unique behaviours such as language and sophisticated tool use. To understand this evolution, a diverse sample set of humans' closest relatives with varying socio-ecologies is needed. However, current brain banks predominantly curate brains from primates that died in zoological gardens. We try to address this gap by establishing a field pipeline mitigating the challenges associated with brain extractions of wild primates in their natural habitat. The success of our approach is demonstrated by our ability to acquire a novel brain sample of deceased primates with highly variable socio-ecological exposure and a particular focus on wild chimpanzees. Methods in acquiring brain tissue from wild settings are comprehensively explained, highlighting the feasibility of conducting brain extraction procedures under strict biosafety measures by trained veterinarians in field sites. Brains are assessed at a fine-structural level via high-resolution MRI and state-of-the-art histology. Analyses confirm that excellent tissue quality of primate brains sourced in the field can be achieved with a comparable tissue quality of brains acquired from zoo-living primates. Our field methods are noninvasive, here defined as not harming living animals, and may be applied to other mammal systems than primates. In sum, the field protocol and methodological pipeline validated here pose a major advance for assessing the influence of socio-ecology on medium to large mammal brains, at both macro- and microstructural levels as well as aiding with the functional annotation of brain regions and neuronal pathways via specific behaviour assessments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • brain connectivity
  • brain evolution
  • brain extraction
  • brain microstructure
  • field necropsy
  • MRI
  • socio-ecological factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling


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