Neurobiological substrates of animal personality and cognition in a nonhuman primate (Microcebus murinus)
INTRODUCTION:The gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) is an important nonhuman primate model in biomedical research. Numerous studies investigated mouse lemur behavior and possible factors underlying interindividual variation in both, animal personality and cognitive performance. Some effects, such as an age-related decline in executive functioning, have robustly been found across laboratory colonies; however, little is known about the brain structural substrates in mouse lemurs. METHODS:Here, we provide first exploratory data linking in vivo magnetic resonance imaging of 34 mouse lemurs to performance in a standardized, touchscreen-based task on object discrimination and reversal learning as well as to animal personality under different scenarios in an open field. RESULTS:High interindividual variability in both brain morphometric and behavioral measurements was found, but only few significant correlations between brain structure and behavior were revealed: Object discrimination learning was linked to the volume of the hippocampus and to temporal lobe thickness, while reversal learning was linked to thalamic volume and the thickness of the anterior cingulate lobe. Emergence latency into the open field correlated with volume of the amygdala. General exploration-avoidance in the empty open-field arena correlated with thicknesses of the anterior cingulate lobe and fronto-parietal substructures. Neophilia, assessed as exploration of a novel object placed in the arena, among others, related to the volume of the caudate nucleus. CONCLUSION:In summary, our data suggest a prominent role of temporal structures (including the hippocampus) for learning capability, as well as thalamic and anterior cingulate structures for cognitive flexibility and response inhibition. The amygdala, the anterior cingulate lobe, and the caudate nucleus are particularly linked to animal personality in the open-field setting. These findings are congruent with the comparative psychological literature and provide a valuable basis for future studies elucidating aspects of behavioral variation in this nonhuman primate model.