John M. Allman
The Allman lab is mainly concerned with brain evolution as revealed through the comparative study of brain structure and with the neural mechanisms of economic and social decision-making. These two interests come together in our investigation of the Von Economo (spindle) neurons of anterior cingulate and fronto-insular cortex. These neurons are present only in humans and apes and are much more abundant in humans than in apes; they thus represent a recent development in hominoid evolution. The Von Economo cells emerge mainly after birth and are 30% more abundant in the right hemisphere. The Allman lab think that the Von Economo neurons are part of the circuitry responsible for rapid intuitive choice in complex social situations. They are also investigating the structure of the brain in another highly social mammal, the African elephant.
The Allman lab continues an investigation of gene expression with RNA-Seq in frontal cortex from autopsy brains in cognitively normal elderly and people with Alzheimer's disease in collaboration with Prof. Barbara Wold and her laboratory, and with Prof. David Bennett and his colleagues at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center. These data reveal a strong changes in expression for genes encoding proteins crucial for synaptic functioning, and the expression levels of these genes are correlated with the results of specific tests for memory and focused attention in these individuals during the last 3 years of life. These RNA-Seq measurements were made with cubic millimeter dissections of rapidly frozen tissue obtained at autopsy. The lab is now extending these observations to the cellular and subcellular domain through collaboration with Prof. Long Cai and his laboratory, who have developed a method for visualizing expression within the microscopic anatomical context with fluorescent in situ hybridizations (FISH) for large series of genes in the same tissue.
- The Human Illnesses by Peter C. Williamson and John Allman, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011.
- Evolving Brains by John Allman, Scientific American Library - W. H. Freeman, New York, 2000. Download