Neocortical neuronal morphology in the Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) and the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

Cameron B. Johnson, Matthew Schall, Mackenzie E. Tennison, Madeleine E. Garcia, Noah B. Shea-Shumsky, Mary Ann Raghanti, Albert H. Lewandowski, Mads F. Bertelsen, Leona C. Waller, Timothy Walsh, John F. Roberts, Patrick R. Hof, Chet C. Sherwood, Paul R. Manger, Bob Jacobs

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6 Scopus citations


Despite extensive investigations of the neocortex in the domestic cat, little is known about neuronal morphology in larger felids. To this end, the present study characterized and quantified the somatodendritic morphology of neocortical neurons in prefrontal, motor, and visual cortices of the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) and clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). After neurons were stained with a modified Golgi technique (N = 194), dendritic branching and spine distributions were analyzed using computer-assisted morphometry. Qualitatively, aspiny and spiny neurons in both species appeared morphologically similar to those observed in the domestic cat. Although the morphology of spiny neurons was diverse, with the presence of extraverted, inverted, horizontal, and multiapical pyramidal neurons, the most common variant was the typical pyramidal neuron. Gigantopyramidal neurons in the motor cortex were extremely large, confirming the observation of Brodmann ([1909] Vergleichende Lokalisationlehre der Grosshirnrinde in ihren Prinzipien dargestellt auf Grund des Zellenbaues. Leipzig, Germany: J.A. Barth), who found large somata for these neurons in carnivores in general, and felids in particular. Quantitatively, a MARSplines analysis of dendritic measures differentiated typical pyramidal neurons between the Siberian tiger and the clouded leopard with 93% accuracy. In general, the dendrites of typical pyramidal neurons were more complex in the tiger than in the leopards. Moreover, dendritic measures in tiger pyramidal neurons were disproportionally large relative to body/brain size insofar as they were nearly as extensive as those observed in much larger mammals (e.g., African elephant). Comparison of neuronal morphology in a more diverse collection of larger felids may elucidate the comparative context for the relatively large size of the pyramidal neurons observed in the present study. J. Comp. Neurol. 524:3641–3665, 2016.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3641-3665
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number17
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Golgi method
  • brain evolution
  • dendrite
  • morphometry
  • neocortex


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