Differential Serotonergic Innervation of the Amygdala in Bonobos and Chimpanzees


Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

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Humans’ closest living relatives are bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), yet these great ape species differ considerably from each other in terms of social behavior. While bonobos are more tolerant of conspecifics in competitive contexts and often use sexual behavior to mediate social interactions, chimpanzees more frequently employ aggression during conflicts and actively patrol territories between communities. Regulation of emotional responses is facilitated by the amygdala, which also modulates social decision-making, memory, and attention. Amygdala responsiveness is further regulated by the neurotransmitter serotonin. We hypothesized that the amygdala of bonobos and chimpanzees would differ in its neuroanatomical organization and serotonergic innervation. We measured volumes of regions and the length density of serotonin transporter-containing axons in the whole amygdala and its lateral, basal, accessory basal, and central nuclei. Results showed that accessory basal nucleus volume was larger in chimpanzees than bonobos. Of particular note, the amygdala of bonobos had more than twice the density of serotonergic axons than chimpanzees, with the most pronounced differences in the basal and central nuclei. These findings suggest that variation in serotonergic innervation of the amygdala may contribute to mediating the remarkable differences in social behavior exhibited by bonobos and chimpanzees.

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