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1.  Cellular Scaling Rules for the Brains of an Extended Number of Primate Species 
Brain, Behavior and Evolution  2010;76(1):32-44.
What are the rules relating the size of the brain and its structures to the number of cells that compose them and their average sizes? We have shown previously that the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and the remaining brain structures increase in size as a linear function of their numbers of neurons and non-neuronal cells across 6 species of primates. Here we describe that the cellular composition of the same brain structures of 5 other primate species, as well as humans, conform to the scaling rules identified previously, and that the updated power functions for the extended sample are similar to those determined earlier. Accounting for phylogenetic relatedness in the combined dataset does not affect the scaling slopes that apply to the cerebral cortex and cerebellum, but alters the slope for the remaining brain structures to a value that is similar to that observed in rodents, which raises the possibility that the neuronal scaling rules for these structures are shared among rodents and primates. The conformity of the new set of primate species to the previous rules strongly suggests that the cellular scaling rules we have identified apply to primates in general, including humans, and not only to particular subgroups of primate species. In contrast, the allometric rules relating body and brain size are highly sensitive to the particular species sampled, suggesting that brain size is neither determined by body size nor together with it, but is rather only loosely correlated with body size.
PMCID: PMC2980814  PMID: 20926854
Allometry; Brain size; Evolution; Glia, number; Neurons, number; Primates
2.  Cellular Scaling Rules of Insectivore Brains 
Insectivores represent extremes in mammalian body size and brain size, retaining various “primitive” morphological characteristics, and some species of Insectivora are thought to share similarities with small-bodied ancestral eutherians. This raises the possibility that insectivore brains differ from other taxa, including rodents and primates, in cellular scaling properties. Here we examine the cellular scaling rules for insectivore brains and demonstrate that insectivore scaling rules overlap somewhat with those for rodents and primates such that the insectivore cortex shares scaling rules with rodents (increasing faster in size than in numbers of neurons), but the insectivore cerebellum shares scaling rules with primates (increasing isometrically). Brain structures pooled as “remaining areas” appear to scale similarly across all three mammalian orders with respect to numbers of neurons, and the numbers of non-neurons appear to scale similarly across all brain structures for all three orders. Therefore, common scaling rules exist, to different extents, between insectivore, rodent, and primate brain regions, and it is hypothesized that insectivores represent the common aspects of each order. The olfactory bulbs of insectivores, however, offer a noteworthy exception in that neuronal density increases linearly with increasing structure mass. This implies that the average neuronal cell size decreases with increasing olfactory bulb mass in order to accommodate greater neuronal density, and represents the first documentation of a brain structure gaining neurons at a greater rate than mass. This might allow insectivore brains to concentrate more neurons within the olfactory bulbs without a prohibitively large and metabolically costly increase in structure mass.
PMCID: PMC2713736  PMID: 19636383
allometry; brain size; comparative neuroanatomy; glia; neurons; evolution; olfactory bulb
3.  Reconstructing the ups and downs of primate brain evolution: implications for adaptive hypotheses and Homo floresiensis 
BMC Biology  2010;8:9.
Brain size is a key adaptive trait. It is often assumed that increasing brain size was a general evolutionary trend in primates, yet recent fossil discoveries have documented brain size decreases in some lineages, raising the question of how general a trend there was for brains to increase in mass over evolutionary time. We present the first systematic phylogenetic analysis designed to answer this question.
We performed ancestral state reconstructions of three traits (absolute brain mass, absolute body mass, relative brain mass) using 37 extant and 23 extinct primate species and three approaches to ancestral state reconstruction: parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian Markov-chain Monte Carlo. Both absolute and relative brain mass generally increased over evolutionary time, but body mass did not. Nevertheless both absolute and relative brain mass decreased along several branches. Applying these results to the contentious case of Homo floresiensis, we find a number of scenarios under which the proposed evolution of Homo floresiensis' small brain appears to be consistent with patterns observed along other lineages, dependent on body mass and phylogenetic position.
Our results confirm that brain expansion began early in primate evolution and show that increases occurred in all major clades. Only in terms of an increase in absolute mass does the human lineage appear particularly striking, with both the rate of proportional change in mass and relative brain size having episodes of greater expansion elsewhere on the primate phylogeny. However, decreases in brain mass also occurred along branches in all major clades, and we conclude that, while selection has acted to enlarge primate brains, in some lineages this trend has been reversed. Further analyses of the phylogenetic position of Homo floresiensis and better body mass estimates are required to confirm the plausibility of the evolution of its small brain mass. We find that for our dataset the Bayesian analysis for ancestral state reconstruction is least affected by inclusion of fossil data suggesting that this approach might be preferable for future studies on other taxa with a poor fossil record.
PMCID: PMC2825212  PMID: 20105283
4.  Accelerated Evolution of the ASPM Gene Controlling Brain Size Begins Prior to Human Brain Expansion 
PLoS Biology  2004;2(5):e126.
Primary microcephaly (MCPH) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by global reduction in cerebral cortical volume. The microcephalic brain has a volume comparable to that of early hominids, raising the possibility that some MCPH genes may have been evolutionary targets in the expansion of the cerebral cortex in mammals and especially primates. Mutations in ASPM, which encodes the human homologue of a fly protein essential for spindle function, are the most common known cause of MCPH. Here we have isolated large genomic clones containing the complete ASPM gene, including promoter regions and introns, from chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, and rhesus macaque by transformation-associated recombination cloning in yeast. We have sequenced these clones and show that whereas much of the sequence of ASPM is substantially conserved among primates, specific segments are subject to high Ka/Ks ratios (nonsynonymous/synonymous DNA changes) consistent with strong positive selection for evolutionary change. The ASPM gene sequence shows accelerated evolution in the African hominoid clade, and this precedes hominid brain expansion by several million years. Gorilla and human lineages show particularly accelerated evolution in the IQ domain of ASPM. Moreover, ASPM regions under positive selection in primates are also the most highly diverged regions between primates and nonprimate mammals. We report the first direct application of TAR cloning technology to the study of human evolution. Our data suggest that evolutionary selection of specific segments of the ASPM sequence strongly relates to differences in cerebral cortical size.
Mutation of the ASPM gene is associated with abnormally small brain size. Comparison of the ASPM gene from several primate species suggests it as a target of evolutionary selection for increased brain size
PMCID: PMC374243  PMID: 15045028
5.  The Evolution of Brains from Early Mammals to Humans 
The large size and complex organization of the human brain makes it unique among primate brains. In particular, the neocortex constitutes about 80% of the brain, and this cortex is subdivided into a large number of functionally specialized regions, the cortical areas. Such a brain mediates accomplishments and abilities unmatched by any other species. How did such a brain evolve? Answers come from comparative studies of the brains of present-day mammals and other vertebrates in conjunction with information about brain sizes and shapes from the fossil record, studies of brain development, and principles derived from studies of scaling and optimal design. Early mammals were small, with small brains, an emphasis on olfaction, and little neocortex. Neocortex was transformed from the single layer of output pyramidal neurons of the dorsal cortex of earlier ancestors to the six layers of all present-day mammals. This small cap of neocortex was divided into 20–25 cortical areas, including primary and some of the secondary sensory areas that characterize neocortex in nearly all mammals today. Early placental mammals had a corpus callosum connecting the neocortex of the two hemispheres, a primary motor area, M1, and perhaps one or more premotor areas. One line of evolution, Euarchontoglires, led to present-day primates, tree shrews, flying lemurs, rodents and rabbits. Early primates evolved from small-brained, nocturnal, insect-eating mammals with an expanded region of temporal visual cortex. These early nocturnal primates were adapted to the fine branch niche of the tropical rainforest by having an even more expanded visual system that mediated visually guided reaching and grasping of insects, small vertebrates, and fruits. Neocortex was greatly expanded, and included an array of cortical areas that characterize neocortex of all living primates. Specializations of the visual system included new visual areas that contributed to a dorsal stream of visuomotor processing in a greatly enlarged region of posterior parietal cortex and an expanded motor system and the addition of a ventral premotor area. Higher visual areas in a large temporal lobe facilitated object recognition, and frontal cortex, included granular prefrontal cortex. Auditory cortex included the primary and secondary auditory areas that characterize prosimian and anthropoid primates today. As anthropoids emerged as diurnal primates, the visual system specialized for detailed foveal vision. Other adaptations included an expansion of prefrontal cortex and insular cortex. The human and chimpanzee-bonobo lineages diverged some 6–8 million years ago with brains that were about one-third the size of modern humans. Over the last two million years, the brains of our more recent ancestors increased greatly in size, especially in the prefrontal, posterior parietal, lateral temporal, and insular regions. Specialization of the two cerebral hemispheres for related, but different functions became pronounced, and language and other impressive cognitive abilities emerged.
PMCID: PMC3606080  PMID: 23529256
6.  The Human Brain in Numbers: A Linearly Scaled-up Primate Brain  
The human brain has often been viewed as outstanding among mammalian brains: the most cognitively able, the largest-than-expected from body size, endowed with an overdeveloped cerebral cortex that represents over 80% of brain mass, and purportedly containing 100 billion neurons and 10× more glial cells. Such uniqueness was seemingly necessary to justify the superior cognitive abilities of humans over larger-brained mammals such as elephants and whales. However, our recent studies using a novel method to determine the cellular composition of the brain of humans and other primates as well as of rodents and insectivores show that, since different cellular scaling rules apply to the brains within these orders, brain size can no longer be considered a proxy for the number of neurons in the brain. These studies also showed that the human brain is not exceptional in its cellular composition, as it was found to contain as many neuronal and non-neuronal cells as would be expected of a primate brain of its size. Additionally, the so-called overdeveloped human cerebral cortex holds only 19% of all brain neurons, a fraction that is similar to that found in other mammals. In what regards absolute numbers of neurons, however, the human brain does have two advantages compared to other mammalian brains: compared to rodents, and probably to whales and elephants as well, it is built according to the very economical, space-saving scaling rules that apply to other primates; and, among economically built primate brains, it is the largest, hence containing the most neurons. These findings argue in favor of a view of cognitive abilities that is centered on absolute numbers of neurons, rather than on body size or encephalization, and call for a re-examination of several concepts related to the exceptionality of the human brain.
PMCID: PMC2776484  PMID: 19915731
brain scaling; number of neurons; human; encephalization
7.  Updated Neuronal Scaling Rules for the Brains of Glires (Rodents/Lagomorphs) 
Brain, Behavior and Evolution  2011;78(4):302-314.
Brain size scales as different functions of its number of neurons across mammalian orders such as rodents, primates, and insectivores. In rodents, we have previously shown that, across a sample of 6 species, from mouse to capybara, the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and the remaining brain structures increase in size faster than they gain neurons, with an accompanying decrease in neuronal density in these structures [Herculano-Houzel et al.: Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2006;103:12138–12143]. Important remaining questions are whether such neuronal scaling rules within an order apply equally to all pertaining species, and whether they extend to closely related taxa. Here, we examine whether 4 other species of Rodentia, as well as the closely related rabbit (Lagomorpha), conform to the scaling rules identified previously for rodents. We report the updated neuronal scaling rules obtained for the average values of each species in a way that is directly comparable to the scaling rules that apply to primates [Gabi et al.: Brain Behav Evol 2010;76:32–44], and examine whether the scaling relationships are affected when phylogenetic relatedness in the dataset is accounted for. We have found that the brains of the spiny rat, squirrel, prairie dog and rabbit conform to the neuronal scaling rules that apply to the previous sample of rodents. The conformity to the previous rules of the new set of species, which includes the rabbit, suggests that the cellular scaling rules we have identified apply to rodents in general, and probably to Glires as a whole (rodents/lagomorphs), with one notable exception: the naked mole-rat brain is apparently an outlier, with only about half of the neurons expected from its brain size in its cerebral cortex and cerebellum.
PMCID: PMC3237106  PMID: 21985803
Rodents; Brain size; Evolution; Neurons; Glia; Glires
8.  Genome Digging: Insight into the Mitochondrial Genome of Homo 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14278.
A fraction of the Neanderthal mitochondrial genome sequence has a similarity with a 5,839-bp nuclear DNA sequence of mitochondrial origin (numt) on the human chromosome 1. This fact has never been interpreted. Although this phenomenon may be attributed to contamination and mosaic assembly of Neanderthal mtDNA from short sequencing reads, we explain the mysterious similarity by integration of this numt (mtAncestor-1) into the nuclear genome of the common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans not long before their reproductive split.
Principal Findings
Exploiting bioinformatics, we uncovered an additional numt (mtAncestor-2) with a high similarity to the Neanderthal mtDNA and indicated that both numts represent almost identical replicas of the mtDNA sequences ancestral to the mitochondrial genomes of Neanderthals and modern humans. In the proteins, encoded by mtDNA, the majority of amino acids distinguishing chimpanzees from humans and Neanderthals were acquired by the ancestral hominins. The overall rate of nonsynonymous evolution in Neanderthal mitochondrial protein-coding genes is not higher than in other lineages. The model incorporating the ancestral hominin mtDNA sequences estimates the average divergence age of the mtDNAs of Neanderthals and modern humans to be 450,000–485,000 years. The mtAncestor-1 and mtAncestor-2 sequences were incorporated into the nuclear genome approximately 620,000 years and 2,885,000 years ago, respectively.
This study provides the first insight into the evolution of the mitochondrial DNA in hominins ancestral to Neanderthals and humans. We hypothesize that mtAncestor-1 and mtAncestor-2 are likely to be molecular fossils of the mtDNAs of Homo heidelbergensis and a stem Homo lineage. The dN/dS dynamics suggests that the effective population size of extinct hominins was low. However, the hominin lineage ancestral to humans, Neanderthals and H. heidelbergensis, had a larger effective population size and possessed genetic diversity comparable with those of chimpanzee and gorilla.
PMCID: PMC3000329  PMID: 21151557
9.  An Evolutionarily Conserved Sexual Signature in the Primate Brain 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(6):e1000100.
The question of a potential biological sexual signature in the human brain is a heavily disputed subject. In order to provide further insight into this issue, we used an evolutionary approach to identify genes with sex differences in brain expression level among primates. We reasoned that expression patterns important to uphold key male and female characteristics may be conserved during evolution. We selected cortex for our studies because this specific brain region is responsible for many higher behavioral functions. We compared gene expression profiles in the occipital cortex of male and female humans (Homo sapiens, a great ape) and cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis, an old world monkey), two catarrhine species that show abundant morphological sexual dimorphism, as well as in common marmosets (Callithrix Jacchus, a new world monkey) which are relatively sexually monomorphic. We identified hundreds of genes with sex-biased expression patterns in humans and macaques, while fewer than ten were differentially expressed between the sexes in marmosets. In primates, a general rule is that many of the morphological and behavioral sexual dimorphisms seen in polygamous species, such as macaques, are typically less pronounced in monogamous species such as the marmosets. Our observations suggest that this correlation may also be reflected in the extent of sex-biased gene expression in the brain. We identified 85 genes with common sex-biased expression, in both human and macaque and 2 genes, X inactivation-specific transcript (XIST) and Heat shock factor binding protein 1 (HSBP1), that were consistently sex-biased in the female direction in human, macaque, and marmoset. These observations imply a conserved signature of sexual gene expression dimorphism in cortex of primates. Further, we found that the coding region of female-biased genes is more evolutionarily constrained compared to the coding region of both male-biased and non sex-biased brain expressed genes. We found genes with conserved sexual gene expression dimorphism in the occipital cortex of humans, cynomolgus macaques, and common marmosets. Genes within sexual expression profiles may underlie important functional differences between the sexes, with possible importance during primate evolution.
Author Summary
The contribution of genetics versus environment to behavioral differences between the sexes is a fundamental question in neuroscience. We hypothesized that some differences between the sexes might be partially explained by sexually dependent gene expression differences in the brain. We further speculated that if differences in gene expression between males and females are functionally important, they may be conserved in the evolution of primates. To test these hypotheses, we measured gene expression in the brains of male and female primates from three species: humans (Homo sapiens), macaques (Macaca fascicularis), and marmosets (Callithrix jacchus). Our results point to a conserved signature of sexual gene expression dimorphism in the brains of primates. Interestingly, we found that genes with conserved sexual gene expression dimorphism in the brain also evolve under more evolutionary constraint, compared with other genes, suggesting that they may have important roles during evolution of sex in primates. Moreover, we found higher evolutionary constrains in the coding regions of female-biased genes as compared to both male-biased and non sex-biased brain expressed genes. The study of sex dimorphic genes may in the future shed light on the basis of psychiatric diseases with differences in prevalence between the sexes.
PMCID: PMC2413013  PMID: 18566661
10.  Cellular scaling rules for the brain of Artiodactyla include a highly folded cortex with few neurons 
Quantitative analysis of the cellular composition of rodent, primate, insectivore, and afrotherian brains has shown that non-neuronal scaling rules are similar across these mammalian orders that diverged about 95 million years ago, and therefore appear to be conserved in evolution, while neuronal scaling rules appear to be free to vary in a clade-specific manner. Here we analyze the cellular scaling rules that apply to the brain of artiodactyls, a group within the order Cetartiodactyla, believed to be a relatively recent radiation from the common Eutherian ancestor. We find that artiodactyls share non-neuronal scaling rules with all groups analyzed previously. Artiodactyls share with afrotherians and rodents, but not with primates, the neuronal scaling rules that apply to the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. The neuronal scaling rules that apply to the remaining brain areas are, however, distinct in artiodactyls. Importantly, we show that the folding index of the cerebral cortex scales with the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex in distinct fashions across artiodactyls, afrotherians, rodents, and primates, such that the artiodactyl cerebral cortex is more convoluted than primate cortices of similar numbers of neurons. Our findings suggest that the scaling rules found to be shared across modern afrotherians, glires, and artiodactyls applied to the common Eutherian ancestor, such as the relationship between the mass of the cerebral cortex as a whole and its number of neurons. In turn, the distribution of neurons along the surface of the cerebral cortex, which is related to its degree of gyrification, appears to be a clade-specific characteristic. If the neuronal scaling rules for artiodactyls extend to all cetartiodactyls, we predict that the large cerebral cortex of cetaceans will still have fewer neurons than the human cerebral cortex.
PMCID: PMC4228855  PMID: 25429261
evolution; cortical expansion; numbers of neurons; gyrification; brain size
11.  Genomic Relationships and Speciation Times of Human, Chimpanzee, and Gorilla Inferred from a Coalescent Hidden Markov Model 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(2):e7.
The genealogical relationship of human, chimpanzee, and gorilla varies along the genome. We develop a hidden Markov model (HMM) that incorporates this variation and relate the model parameters to population genetics quantities such as speciation times and ancestral population sizes. Our HMM is an analytically tractable approximation to the coalescent process with recombination, and in simulations we see no apparent bias in the HMM estimates. We apply the HMM to four autosomal contiguous human–chimp–gorilla–orangutan alignments comprising a total of 1.9 million base pairs. We find a very recent speciation time of human–chimp (4.1 ± 0.4 million years), and fairly large ancestral effective population sizes (65,000 ± 30,000 for the human–chimp ancestor and 45,000 ± 10,000 for the human–chimp–gorilla ancestor). Furthermore, around 50% of the human genome coalesces with chimpanzee after speciation with gorilla. We also consider 250,000 base pairs of X-chromosome alignments and find an effective population size much smaller than 75% of the autosomal effective population sizes. Finally, we find that the rate of transitions between different genealogies correlates well with the region-wide present-day human recombination rate, but does not correlate with the fine-scale recombination rates and recombination hot spots, suggesting that the latter are evolutionarily transient.
Author Summary
Primate evolution is a central topic in biology and much information can be obtained from DNA sequence data. A key parameter is the time “when we became human,” i.e., the time in the past when descendents of the human–chimp ancestor split into human and chimpanzee. Other important parameters are the time in the past when descendents of the human–chimp–gorilla ancestor split into descendents of the human–chimp ancestor and the gorilla ancestor, and population sizes of the human–chimp and human–chimp–gorilla ancestors. To estimate speciation times and ancestral population sizes we have developed a new methodology that explicitly utilizes the spatial information in contiguous genome alignments. Furthermore, we have applied this methodology to four long autosomal human–chimp–gorilla–orangutan alignments and estimated a very recent speciation time of human and chimp (around 4 million years) and ancestral population sizes much larger than the present-day human effective population size. We also analyzed X-chromosome sequence data and found that the X chromosome has experienced a different history from that of autosomes, possibly because of selection.
PMCID: PMC1802818  PMID: 17319744
12.  Evolutionary conservation in genes underlying human psychiatric disorders 
Many psychiatric diseases observed in humans have tenuous or absent analogs in other species. Most notable among these are schizophrenia and autism. One hypothesis has posited that these diseases have arisen as a consequence of human brain evolution, for example, that the same processes that led to advances in cognition, language, and executive function also resulted in novel diseases in humans when dysfunctional. Here, the molecular evolution of the protein-coding regions of genes associated with these and other psychiatric disorders are compared among species. Genes associated with psychiatric disorders are drawn from the literature and orthologous sequences are collected from eleven primate species (human, chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, orangutan, gibbon, macaque, baboon, marmoset, squirrel monkey, and galago) and 34 non-primate mammalian species. Evolutionary parameters, including dN/dS, are calculated for each gene and compared between disease classes and among species, focusing on humans and primates compared to other mammals, and on large-brained taxa (cetaceans, rhinoceros, walrus, bear, and elephant) compared to their small-brained sister species. Evidence of differential selection in humans to the exclusion of non-human primates was absent, however elevated dN/dS was detected in catarrhines as a whole, as well as in cetaceans, possibly as part of a more general trend. Although this may suggest that protein changes associated with schizophrenia and autism are not a cost of the higher brain function found in humans, it may also point to insufficiencies in the study of these diseases including incomplete or inaccurate gene association lists and/or a greater role of regulatory changes or copy number variation. Through this work a better understanding of the molecular evolution of the human brain, the pathophysiology of disease, and the genetic basis of human psychiatric disease is gained.
PMCID: PMC4018557  PMID: 24834046
schizophrenia; autism; Homo sapiens; adaptation
13.  Chromosomal evolution of the PKD1 gene family in primates 
The autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is mostly caused by mutations in the PKD1 (polycystic kidney disease 1) gene located in 16p13.3. Moreover, there are six pseudogenes of PKD1 that are located proximal to the master gene in 16p13.1. In contrast, no pseudogene could be detected in the mouse genome, only a single copy gene on chromosome 17. The question arises how the human situation originated phylogenetically. To address this question we applied comparative FISH-mapping of a human PKD1-containing genomic BAC clone and a PKD1-cDNA clone to chromosomes of a variety of primate species and the dog as a non-primate outgroup species.
Comparative FISH with the PKD1-cDNA clone clearly shows that in all primate species studied distinct single signals map in subtelomeric chromosomal positions orthologous to the short arm of human chromosome 16 harbouring the master PKD1 gene. Only in human and African great apes, but not in orangutan, FISH with both BAC and cDNA clones reveals additional signal clusters located proximal of and clearly separated from the PKD1 master genes indicating the chromosomal position of PKD1 pseudogenes in 16p of these species, respectively. Indeed, this is in accordance with sequencing data in human, chimpanzee and orangutan. Apart from the master PKD1 gene, six pseudogenes are identified in both, human and chimpanzee, while only a single-copy gene is present in the whole-genome sequence of orangutan. The phylogenetic reconstruction of the PKD1-tree reveals that all human pseudogenes are closely related to the human PKD1 gene, and all chimpanzee pseudogenes are closely related to the chimpanzee PKD1 gene. However, our statistical analyses provide strong indication that gene conversion events may have occurred within the PKD1 family members of human and chimpanzee, respectively.
PKD1 must have undergone amplification very recently in hominid evolution. Duplicative transposition of the PKD1 gene and further amplification and evolution of the PKD1 pseudogenes may have arisen in a common ancestor of Homo, Pan and Gorilla ~8 MYA. Reticulate evolutionary processes such as gene conversion and non-allelic homologous recombination (NAHR) may have resulted in concerted evolution of PKD1 family members in human and chimpanzee and, thus, simulate an independent evolution of the PKD1 pseudogenes from their master PKD1 genes in human and chimpanzee.
PMCID: PMC2564946  PMID: 18822117
14.  Nasopharyngeal carcinoma as a paradigm of cancer genetics 
Chinese Journal of Cancer  2011;30(2):79-84.
The unusual incidence patterns for nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) in China, Northeast India, Arctic Inuit, Peninsular and island Southeast Asia, Polynesian Islanders, and North Africans indicate a role for NPC risk genes in Chinese, Chinese-related, and not-obviously Chinese-related populations. Renewed interest in NPC genetic risk has been stimulated by a hypothesis that NPC population patterns originated in Bai-Yue / pre-Austronesian–speaking aborigines and were dispersed during the last glacial maximum by Sundaland submersion. Five articles in this issue of the Chinese Journal of Cancer, first presented at a meeting on genetic aspects of NPC [National Cancer Center of Singapore (NCCS), February 20–21, 2010], are directed towards incidence patterns, to early detection of affected individuals within risk populations, and to the application of genetic technology advances to understanding the nature of high risk. Turnbull presents a general framework for understanding population migrations that underlie NPC and similar complex diseases, including other viral cancers. Trejaut et al. apply genetic markers to detail migration from East Asia through Taiwan to the populating of Island Polynesia. Migration dispersal in a westward direction took mongoloid peoples to modern day Northeast India adjacent to Western China (Xinjiang). NPC incidence in mongoloid Nagas ranks amongst the highest in the world, whereas elsewhere in India NPC is uncommon. Cao et al. detail incidence patterns in Southeast China that have occurred over recent decades. Finally, Ji et al. describe the utility of Epstein-Barr virus serostatus in early NPC detection. While genetic risk factors still remain largely unknown, human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes have been a focus of attention since the discovery of an HLA association with NPC in 1973 and, two years later, that NPC susceptibility in highest-risk Cantonese involved the co-occurrence of multi-HLA locus combinations of HLA genes as chromosome combinations, or haplotypes (e.g. HLA-A2–B46), whereas in relatively lower-risk non-Cantonese Chinese (Hokkiens, Teochews) they appeared to act independently, a strength of association reflecting the 30–50-fold difference in incidence between highest risk Cantonese and lowest-risk Indians. The prototypic haplotype HLA-A2–B46 extends over megabases. An upstream DNA segment (near HLA-DPA1), has close similarity to Gorilla, with no obvious homology to Chimpanzee in current databases, suggesting that a reticulate model of primate evolution may be more appropriate than simple phylogeny. The DNA variation level in this segment is high enough for it to be a hominin remnant. HLA-B46 arose in mongoloids and remains largely limited to Chinese so the question arises as to whether the hominin candidate segment indicates an eastward trek of Homo neanderthalensis or the survival of much earlier Homo erectus? In 2011 sequencing technologies have finally caught up with the requirement to separate parental haplotypes. Recently achieved chromosome separation for whole genome di-haploid genetic and epigenetic analysis of parental inheritance in single individuals will reveal interacting patterns of multi-locus haplotypes as humans move in and through successive environments, thus providing definitive information on the genetic affinities between extant populations, and of the migrations that have led to the global distribution of modern Homo. The challenge can now be met of seeking HLA-associated locations both within and outside the HLA complex on each of the pair of chromosomes. More broadly, for every disease, genetic risk detection will require resolution of the diploid genome as a di-haplome. In the context of NPC, HLA genetic risk complete autosomal di-haplomic sequencing will enable testing of the Wee unitary origin hypothesis of NPC risk even among populations with no apparent mongoloid affinity.
PMCID: PMC4013336  PMID: 21272439
15.  Patterns of differences in brain morphology in humans as compared to extant apes 
Journal of human evolution  2010;60(1):94-105.
Although human evolution is characterized by a vast increase in brain size, it is not clear whether or not certain regions of the brain are enlarged disproportionately in humans, or how this enlargement relates to differences in overall neural morphology. The aim of this study is to determine whether or not there are specific suites of features that distinguish the morphology of the human brain from that of apes. The study sample consists of whole brain, in vivo magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) and five ape species (gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos). Twenty-nine 3D landmarks, including surface and internal features of the brain were located on 3D MRI reconstructions of each individual using MEASURE software. Landmark coordinate data were scaled for differences in size and analyzed using Euclidean Distance Matrix Analysis (EDMA) to statistically compare the brains of each non-human ape species to the human sample. Results of analyses show both a pattern of brain morphology that is consistently different between all apes and humans, as well as patterns that differ among species. Further, both the consistent and species-specific patterns include cortical and subcortical features. The pattern that remains consistent across species indicates a morphological reorganization of 1) relationships between cortical and subcortical frontal structures, 2) expansion of the temporal lobe and location of the amygdala, and 3) expansion of the anterior parietal region. Additionally, results demonstrate that, although there is a pattern of morphology that uniquely defines the human brain, there are also patterns that uniquely differentiate human morphology from the morphology of each non-human ape species, indicating that reorganization of neural morphology occurred at the evolutionary divergence of each of these groups.
PMCID: PMC3020090  PMID: 21056456
brain evolution; morphology; neuroanatomy; human evolution
16.  The evolution of the complex sensory and motor systems of the human brain 
Brain research bulletin  2007;75(2-4):384-390.
Inferences about how the complex sensory and motor systems of the human brain evolved are based on the results of comparative studies of brain organization across a range of mammalian species, and evidence from the endocasts of fossil skulls of key extinct species. The endocasts of the skulls of early mammals indicate that they had small brains with little neocortex. Evidence from comparative studies of cortical organization from small-brained mammals of the six major branches of mammalian evolution supports the conclusion that the small neocortex of early mammals was divided into roughly 20–25 cortical areas, including primary and secondary sensory fields. In early primates, vision was the dominant sense, and cortical areas associated with vision in temporal and occipital cortex underwent a significant expansion. Comparative studies indicate that early primates had 10 or more visual areas, and somatosensory areas with expanded representations of the forepaw. Posterior parietal cortex was also expanded, with a caudal half dominated by visual inputs, and a rostral half dominated by somatosensory inputs with outputs to an array of seven or more motor and visuomotor areas of the frontal lobe. Somatosensory areas and posterior parietal cortex became further differentiated in early anthropoid primates. As larger brains evolved in early apes and in our hominin ancestors, the number of cortical areas increased to reach an estimated 200 or so in present day humans, and hemispheric specializations emerged. The large human brain grew primarily by increasing neuron number rather than increasing average neuron size.
PMCID: PMC2349093  PMID: 18331903
17.  On the Relationships of Postcanine Tooth Size with Dietary Quality and Brain Volume in Primates: Implications for Hominin Evolution 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:406507.
Brain volume and cheek-tooth size have traditionally been considered as two traits that show opposite evolutionary trends during the evolution of Homo. As a result, differences in encephalization and molarization among hominins tend to be interpreted in paleobiological grounds, because both traits were presumably linked to the dietary quality of extinct species. Here we show that there is an essential difference between the genus Homo and the living primate species, because postcanine tooth size and brain volume are related to negative allometry in primates and show an inverse relationship in Homo. However, when size effects are removed, the negative relationship between encephalization and molarization holds only for platyrrhines and the genus Homo. In addition, there is no general trend for the relationship between postcanine tooth size and dietary quality among the living primates. If size and phylogeny effects are both removed, this relationship vanishes in many taxonomic groups. As a result, the suggestion that the presence of well-developed postcanine teeth in extinct hominins should be indicative of a poor-quality diet cannot be generalized to all extant and extinct primates.
PMCID: PMC3925621  PMID: 24592388
18.  Testing the Oxidative Stress Hypothesis of Aging in Primate Fibroblasts: Is There a Correlation Between Species Longevity and Cellular ROS Production? 
The present study was conducted to test predictions of the oxidative stress theory of aging assessing reactive oxygen species production and oxidative stress resistance in cultured fibroblasts from 13 primate species ranging in body size from 0.25 to 120 kg and in longevity from 20 to 90 years. We assessed both basal and stress-induced reactive oxygen species production in fibroblasts from five great apes (human, chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and orangutan), four Old World monkeys (baboon, rhesus and crested black macaques, and patas monkey), three New World monkeys (common marmoset, red-bellied tamarin, and woolly monkey), and one lemur (ring-tailed lemur). Measurements of cellular MitoSox fluorescence, an indicator of mitochondrial superoxide (O2·−) generation, showed an inverse correlation between longevity and steady state or metabolic stress–induced mitochondrial O2·− production, but this correlation was lost when the effects of body mass were removed, and the data were analyzed using phylogenetically independent contrasts. Fibroblasts from longer-lived primate species also exhibited superior resistance to H2O2-induced apoptotic cell death than cells from shorter-living primates. After correction for body mass and lack of phylogenetic independence, this correlation, although still discernible, fell short of significance by regression analysis. Thus, increased longevity in this sample of primates is not causally associated with low cellular reactive oxygen species generation, but further studies are warranted to test the association between increased cellular resistance to oxidative stressor and primate longevity.
PMCID: PMC3403864  PMID: 22219516
Primates; Comparative biology; Free radical; Oxidative stress
19.  Cellular scaling rules for the brain of afrotherians 
Quantitative analysis of the cellular composition of rodent, primate and eulipotyphlan brains has shown that non-neuronal scaling rules are similar across these mammalian orders that diverged about 95 million years ago, and therefore appear to be conserved in evolution, while neuronal scaling rules appear to be free to vary in evolution in a clade-specific manner. Here we analyze the cellular scaling rules that apply to the brain of afrotherians, believed to be the first clade to radiate from the common eutherian ancestor. We find that afrotherians share non-neuronal scaling rules with rodents, primates and eulipotyphlans, as well as the coordinated scaling of numbers of neurons in the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. Afrotherians share with rodents and eulipotyphlans, but not with primates, the scaling of number of neurons in the cortex and in the cerebellum as a function of the number of neurons in the rest of the brain. Afrotheria also share with rodents and eulipotyphlans the neuronal scaling rules that apply to the cerebral cortex. Afrotherians share with rodents, but not with eulipotyphlans nor primates, the neuronal scaling rules that apply to the cerebellum. Importantly, the scaling of the folding index of the cerebral cortex with the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex is not shared by either afrotherians, rodents, or primates. The sharing of some neuronal scaling rules between afrotherians and rodents, and of some additional features with eulipotyphlans and primates, raise the interesting possibility that these shared characteristics applied to the common eutherian ancestor. In turn, the clade-specific characteristics that relate to the distribution of neurons along the surface of the cerebral cortex and to its degree of gyrification suggest that these characteristics compose an evolutionarily plastic suite of features that may have defined and distinguished mammalian groups in evolution.
PMCID: PMC3925844  PMID: 24596544
evolution; glia-neuron ratio; numbers of neurons; cortical expansion; gyrification
20.  Molecular evolution of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit 5A gene in primates 
Many electron transport chain (ETC) genes show accelerated rates of nonsynonymous nucleotide substitutions in anthropoid primate lineages, yet in non-anthropoid lineages the ETC proteins are typically highly conserved. Here, we test the hypothesis that COX5A, the ETC gene that encodes cytochrome c oxidase subunit 5A, shows a pattern of anthropoid-specific adaptive evolution, and investigate the distribution of this protein in catarrhine brains.
In a dataset comprising 29 vertebrate taxa, including representatives from all major groups of primates, there is nearly 100% conservation of the COX5A amino acid sequence among extant, non-anthropoid placental mammals. The most recent common ancestor of these species lived about 100 million years (MY) ago. In contrast, anthropoid primates show markedly elevated rates of nonsynonymous evolution. In particular, branch site tests identify five positively selected codons in anthropoids, and ancestral reconstructions infer that substitutions in these codons occurred predominantly on stem lineages (anthropoid, ape and New World monkey) and on the human terminal branch. Examination of catarrhine brain samples by immunohistochemistry characterizes for the first time COX5A protein distribution in the primate neocortex, and suggests that the protein is most abundant in the mitochondria of large-size projection neurons. Real time quantitative PCR supports previous microarray results showing COX5A is expressed in cerebral cortical tissue at a higher level in human than in chimpanzee or gorilla.
Taken together, these results suggest that both protein structural and gene regulatory changes contributed to COX5A evolution during humankind's ancestry. Furthermore, these findings are consistent with the hypothesis that adaptations in ETC genes contributed to the emergence of the energetically expensive anthropoid neocortex.
PMCID: PMC2241769  PMID: 18197981
21.  Greater addition of neurons to the olfactory bulb than to the cerebral cortex of eulipotyphlans but not rodents, afrotherians or primates 
The olfactory bulb is an evolutionarily old structure that antedates the appearance of a six-layered mammalian cerebral cortex. As such, the neuronal scaling rules that apply to scaling the mass of the olfactory bulb as a function of its number of neurons might be shared across mammalian groups, as we have found to be the case for the ensemble of non-cortical, non-cerebellar brain structures. Alternatively, the neuronal scaling rules that apply to the olfactory bulb might be distinct in those mammals that rely heavily on olfaction. The group previously referred to as Insectivora includes small mammals, some of which are now placed in Afrotheria, a base group in mammalian radiation, and others in Eulipotyphla, a group derived later, at the base of Laurasiatheria. Here we show that the neuronal scaling rules that apply to building the olfactory bulb differ across eulipotyphlans and other mammals such that eulipotyphlans have more neurons concentrated in an olfactory bulb of similar size than afrotherians, glires and primates. Most strikingly, while the cerebral cortex gains neurons at a faster pace than the olfactory bulb in glires, and afrotherians follow this trend, it is the olfactory bulb that gains neurons at a faster pace than the cerebral cortex in eulipotyphlans, which contradicts the common view that the cerebral cortex is the fastest expanding structure in brain evolution. Our findings emphasize the importance of not using brain structure size as a proxy for numbers of neurons across mammalian orders, and are consistent with the notion that different selective pressures have acted upon the olfactory system of eulipotyphlans, glires and primates, with eulipotyphlans relying more on olfaction for their behavior than glires and primates. Surprisingly, however, the neuronal scaling rules for primates predict that the human olfactory bulb has as many neurons as the larger eulipotyphlan olfactory bulbs, which questions the classification of humans as microsmatic.
PMCID: PMC3990053  PMID: 24782719
olfactory bulb; cortical expansion; mosaic evolution; olfaction
22.  Shared Pattern of Endocranial Shape Asymmetries among Great Apes, Anatomically Modern Humans, and Fossil Hominins 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29581.
Anatomical asymmetries of the human brain are a topic of major interest because of their link with handedness and cognitive functions. Their emergence and occurrence have been extensively explored in human fossil records to document the evolution of brain capacities and behaviour. We quantified for the first time antero-posterior endocranial shape asymmetries in large samples of great apes, modern humans and fossil hominins through analysis of “virtual” 3D models of skull and endocranial cavity and we statistically test for departures from symmetry. Once based on continuous variables, we show that the analysis of these brain asymmetries gives original results that build upon previous analysis based on discrete traits. In particular, it emerges that the degree of petalial asymmetries differs between great apes and hominins without modification of their pattern. We indeed demonstrate the presence of shape asymmetries in great apes, with a pattern similar to modern humans but with a lower variation and a lower degree of fluctuating asymmetry. More importantly, variations in the position of the frontal and occipital poles on the right and left hemispheres would be expected to show some degree of antisymmetry when population distribution is considered, but the observed pattern of variation among the samples is related to fluctuating asymmetry for most of the components of the petalias. Moreover, the presence of a common pattern of significant directional asymmetry for two components of the petalias in hominids implicates that the observed traits were probably inherited from the last common ancestor of extant African great apes and Homo sapiens.
These results also have important implications for the possible relationships between endocranial shape asymmetries and functional capacities in hominins. It emphasizes the uncoupling between lateralized activities, some of them well probably distinctive to Homo, and large-scale cerebral lateralization itself, which is not unique to Homo.
PMCID: PMC3252326  PMID: 22242147
23.  Human-Specific Histone Methylation Signatures at Transcription Start Sites in Prefrontal Neurons 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(11):e1001427.
Mapping histone methylation landscapes in neurons from human, chimpanzee, and macaque brains reveals coordinated, human-specific epigenetic regulation at hundreds of regulatory sequences.
Cognitive abilities and disorders unique to humans are thought to result from adaptively driven changes in brain transcriptomes, but little is known about the role of cis-regulatory changes affecting transcription start sites (TSS). Here, we mapped in human, chimpanzee, and macaque prefrontal cortex the genome-wide distribution of histone H3 trimethylated at lysine 4 (H3K4me3), an epigenetic mark sharply regulated at TSS, and identified 471 sequences with human-specific enrichment or depletion. Among these were 33 loci selectively methylated in neuronal but not non-neuronal chromatin from children and adults, including TSS at DPP10 (2q14.1), CNTN4 and CHL1 (3p26.3), and other neuropsychiatric susceptibility genes. Regulatory sequences at DPP10 and additional loci carried a strong footprint of hominid adaptation, including elevated nucleotide substitution rates and regulatory motifs absent in other primates (including archaic hominins), with evidence for selective pressures during more recent evolution and adaptive fixations in modern populations. Chromosome conformation capture at two neurodevelopmental disease loci, 2q14.1 and 16p11.2, revealed higher order chromatin structures resulting in physical contact of multiple human-specific H3K4me3 peaks spaced 0.5–1 Mb apart, in conjunction with a novel cis-bound antisense RNA linked to Polycomb repressor proteins and downregulated DPP10 expression. Therefore, coordinated epigenetic regulation via newly derived TSS chromatin could play an important role in the emergence of human-specific gene expression networks in brain that contribute to cognitive functions and neurological disease susceptibility in modern day humans.
Author Summary
Primate and human genomes comprise billions of base pairs, but we are unlikely to gain a deeper understanding of brain functions unique to human (including cognitive abilities and psychiatric diseases) merely by comparing linear DNA sequences. Such determinants of species-specific function might instead be found in the so-called “epigenetic” characteristics of genomic regions; differences in the protein-packaged chromatin state in which genomic DNA exists in the cell. Here, we examine neurons from the prefrontal cortex, a brain region closely associated with the evolution of the primate brain, and identify hundreds of short DNA sequences defined by human-specific changes in chromatin structure and function when compared to non-human primates. These changes included species-specific regulation of methylation marks on the histone proteins around which genomic DNA is wrapped. Sequences subject to human-specific epigenetic regulation showed significant spatial clustering, and despite being separated by hundreds of thousands of base pairs on the linear genome, were in direct physical contact with each other through chromosomal looping and other higher order chromatin features. This observation raises the intriguing possibility that coordinated epigenetic regulation via newly derived chromatin features at gene transcription start sites could play an important role in the emergence of human-specific gene expression networks in the brain. Finally, we identified a strong genetic footprint of hominid evolution in a small subset of transcription start sites defined by human-specific gains in histone methylation, with particularly strong enrichment in prefrontal cortex neurons. For example, the base pair sequence of DPP10 (a gene critically important for normal human brain development) not only showed distinct human-specific changes, but also evidence for more recent selective pressures within the human population.
PMCID: PMC3502543  PMID: 23185133
24.  Brain size of Homo floresiensis and its evolutionary implications 
The extremely small endocranial volume (ECV) of LB1, the type specimen of Homo floresiensis, poses a challenge in our understanding of human brain evolution. Some researchers hypothesize dramatic dwarfing of relative brain size from Homo erectus presumably without significant decrease in intellectual function, whereas others expect a lesser degree of brain diminution from a more primitive, small-brained form of hominin currently undocumented in eastern Asia. However, inconsistency in the published ECVs for LB1 (380–430 cc), unclear human intraspecific brain–body size scaling and other uncertainties have hampered elaborative modelling of its brain size reduction. In this study, we accurately determine the ECV of LB1 using high-resolution micro-CT scan. The ECV of LB1 thus measured, 426 cc, is larger than the commonly cited figure in previous studies (400 cc). Coupled with brain–body size correlation in Homo sapiens calculated based on a sample from 20 worldwide modern human populations, we construct new models of the brain size reduction in the evolution of H. floresiensis. The results show a more significant contribution of scaling effect than previously claimed.
PMCID: PMC3652458  PMID: 23595271
Homo floresiensis; endocranial volume; relative brain size; brain–body scaling
25.  Comparative and demographic analysis of orangutan genomes 
Locke, Devin P. | Hillier, LaDeana W. | Warren, Wesley C. | Worley, Kim C. | Nazareth, Lynne V. | Muzny, Donna M. | Yang, Shiaw-Pyng | Wang, Zhengyuan | Chinwalla, Asif T. | Minx, Pat | Mitreva, Makedonka | Cook, Lisa | Delehaunty, Kim D. | Fronick, Catrina | Schmidt, Heather | Fulton, Lucinda A. | Fulton, Robert S. | Nelson, Joanne O. | Magrini, Vincent | Pohl, Craig | Graves, Tina A. | Markovic, Chris | Cree, Andy | Dinh, Huyen H. | Hume, Jennifer | Kovar, Christie L. | Fowler, Gerald R. | Lunter, Gerton | Meader, Stephen | Heger, Andreas | Ponting, Chris P. | Marques-Bonet, Tomas | Alkan, Can | Chen, Lin | Cheng, Ze | Kidd, Jeffrey M. | Eichler, Evan E. | White, Simon | Searle, Stephen | Vilella, Albert J. | Chen, Yuan | Flicek, Paul | Ma, Jian | Raney, Brian | Suh, Bernard | Burhans, Richard | Herrero, Javier | Haussler, David | Faria, Rui | Fernando, Olga | Darré, Fleur | Farré, Domènec | Gazave, Elodie | Oliva, Meritxell | Navarro, Arcadi | Roberto, Roberta | Capozzi, Oronzo | Archidiacono, Nicoletta | Valle, Giuliano Della | Purgato, Stefania | Rocchi, Mariano | Konkel, Miriam K. | Walker, Jerilyn A. | Ullmer, Brygg | Batzer, Mark A. | Smit, Arian F. A. | Hubley, Robert | Casola, Claudio | Schrider, Daniel R. | Hahn, Matthew W. | Quesada, Victor | Puente, Xose S. | Ordoñez, Gonzalo R. | López-Otín, Carlos | Vinar, Tomas | Brejova, Brona | Ratan, Aakrosh | Harris, Robert S. | Miller, Webb | Kosiol, Carolin | Lawson, Heather A. | Taliwal, Vikas | Martins, André L. | Siepel, Adam | RoyChoudhury, Arindam | Ma, Xin | Degenhardt, Jeremiah | Bustamante, Carlos D. | Gutenkunst, Ryan N. | Mailund, Thomas | Dutheil, Julien Y. | Hobolth, Asger | Schierup, Mikkel H. | Chemnick, Leona | Ryder, Oliver A. | Yoshinaga, Yuko | de Jong, Pieter J. | Weinstock, George M. | Rogers, Jeffrey | Mardis, Elaine R. | Gibbs, Richard A. | Wilson, Richard K.
Nature  2011;469(7331):529-533.
“Orangutan” is derived from the Malay term “man of the forest” and aptly describes the Southeast Asian great apes native to Sumatra and Borneo. The orangutan species, Pongo abelii (Sumatran) and Pongo pygmaeus (Bornean), are the most phylogenetically distant great apes from humans, thereby providing an informative perspective on hominid evolution. Here we present a Sumatran orangutan draft genome assembly and short read sequence data from five Sumatran and five Bornean orangutan genomes. Our analyses reveal that, compared to other primates, the orangutan genome has many unique features. Structural evolution of the orangutan genome has proceeded much more slowly than other great apes, evidenced by fewer rearrangements, less segmental duplication, a lower rate of gene family turnover and surprisingly quiescent Alu repeats, which have played a major role in restructuring other primate genomes. We also describe the first primate polymorphic neocentromere, found in both Pongo species, emphasizing the gradual evolution of orangutan genome structure. Orangutans have extremely low energy usage for a eutherian mammal1, far lower than their hominid relatives. Adding their genome to the repertoire of sequenced primates illuminates new signals of positive selection in several pathways including glycolipid metabolism. From the population perspective, both Pongo species are deeply diverse; however, Sumatran individuals possess greater diversity than their Bornean counterparts, and more species-specific variation. Our estimate of Bornean/Sumatran speciation time, 400k years ago (ya), is more recent than most previous studies and underscores the complexity of the orangutan speciation process. Despite a smaller modern census population size, the Sumatran effective population size (Ne) expanded exponentially relative to the ancestral Ne after the split, while Bornean Ne declined over the same period. Overall, the resources and analyses presented here offer new opportunities in evolutionary genomics, insights into hominid biology, and an extensive database of variation for conservation efforts.
PMCID: PMC3060778  PMID: 21270892

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