Out of Africa, there is always something new – the unusual brains of some African mammals

Pliny the Elder is quoted as saying that something new always arises from Africa, but he wasn’t
prophetically referring to the brains of African mammals. Africa is home to 25% of all extant mammal
species, all belonging to the Eutherian, or placental, mammals, which includes humans. Mammalian
species indigenous to Africa have representatives in most major Eutherian mammal phylogenetic
orders, and range from mammals as small as the pygmy mouse through to the largest terrestrial
mammal the African elephant. This talk will present the more unusual neuroanatomical, neurochemical
and sleep findings we have made in my laboratory over the past 15 years. We have been fortunate
enough to study the brains of iconic mammal species, such as the African elephant, zebras, lions and
giraffe, and many lesser-known species such as pangolins, mole rats, springhares, golden moles, bats
and hyraxes. While the work has focussed upon the nuclei of the brain that control the sleep-wake
cycle, observations made in other systems of the brain are also of broad interest. The potential
significance of these findings and their relationships to understanding the evolutionary plasticity of the
brain and behaviour, and understanding brain function in relation to behaviour more generally, will be
presented on a case-by-case basis.