Understanding the parietal lobe syndrome from a neurophysiological and evolutionary perspective
In human and nonhuman primates parietal cortex is formed by a multiplicity of areas. For those of the superior parietal lobule (SPL) there exists a certain homology between man and macaques. As a consequence, optic ataxia, a disturbed visual control of hand reaching, has similar features in man and monkeys. Establishing such correspondence has proven difficult for the areas of the inferior parietal lobule (IPL). This difficulty depends on many factors. First, no physiological information is available in man on the dynamic properties of cells in the IPL. Second, the number of IPL areas identified in the monkey is paradoxically higher than that so far described in man, although this issue will probably be reconsidered in future years, thanks to comparative imaging studies. Third, the consequences of parietal lesions in monkeys do not always match those observed in humans. This is another paradox if one considers that, in certain cases, the functional properties of neurons in the monkey's IPL would predict the presence of behavioral skills, such as construction capacity, that however do not seem to emerge in the wild. Therefore, constructional apraxia, which is well characterized in man, has never been described in monkeys and apes. Finally, only certain aspects, i.e. hand directional hypokinesia and gaze apraxia (Balint's psychic paralysis of gaze), of the multifaceted syndrome hemispatial neglect have been described in monkeys. These similarities, differences and paradoxes, among many others, make the study of the evolution and function of parietal cortex a challenging case.