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1.  Variation in human brains may facilitate evolutionary change toward a limited range of phenotypes 
Brain, behavior and evolution  2013;81(2):74-85.
Individual variation is the foundation for evolutionary change, but little is known about the nature of normal variation between brains. Phylogenetic variation across mammalian brains is characterized by high inter-correlations in brain region volumes, distinct allometric scaling for each brain region and the relative independence in olfactory and limbic structures volumes from the rest of the brain. Previous work examining brain variation in individuals of some domesticated species showed that these three features of phylogenetic variation were mirrored in individual variation. We extend this analysis to the human brain and 10 of its subdivisions (e.g., isocortex, hippocampus) by using magnetic resonance imaging scans of 90 human brains ranging between 16 to 25 years of age. Human brain variation resembles both the individual variation seen in other species, and variation observed across mammalian species. That is, the relative differences in the slopes of each brain region compared to medulla size within humans and between mammals are concordant, and limbic structures scale with relative independence from other brain regions. This non-random pattern of variation suggests that developmental programs channel the variation available for selection.
PMCID: PMC3658611  PMID: 23363667
Allometry; Variation; Human; Brain; Evolution
2.  Distinct developmental growth patterns account for the disproportionate expansion of the rostral and caudal isocortex in evolution 
In adulthood, the isocortex of several species is characterized by a gradient in neurons per unit of cortical surface area with fewer neurons per unit of cortical surface area in the rostral pole relative to the caudal pole. A gradient in neurogenesis timing predicts differences in neurons across the isocortex: neurons per unit of cortical surface area are fewer rostrally, where neurogenesis duration is short, and higher caudally where neurogenesis duration is longer. How species differences in neurogenesis duration impact cortical progenitor cells across its axis is not known. I estimated progenitor cells per unit of ventricular area across the rostro-caudal axis of the isocortex in cats (Felis catus) and in dogs (Canis familiaris) mostly before layers VI-II neurons are generated. I also estimated the ventricular length across the rostro-caudal axis at various stages of development in both species. These two species were chosen because neurogenesis duration in dogs is extended compared with cats. Caudally, cortical progenitors expand more tangentially and in numbers in dogs compared with cats. Rostrally, the cortical proliferative zone expands more tangentially in dogs compared with cats. However, the tangential expansion in the rostral cortical proliferative zone occurs without a concomitant increase in progenitor cell numbers. The tangential expansion of the ventricular surface in the rostral cortex is mediated by a reduction in cell density. These different developmental growth patterns account for the disproportionate expansion of the rostral (i.e., frontal cortex) and caudal cortex (e.g., primary visual cortex) when neurogenesis duration lengthens in evolution.
PMCID: PMC3986531  PMID: 24782736
cortex; gradient; neurogenesis; development; evolution
3.  Developmental Modes and Developmental Mechanisms can Channel Brain Evolution 
Anseriform birds (ducks and geese) as well as parrots and songbirds have evolved a disproportionately enlarged telencephalon compared with many other birds. However, parrots and songbirds differ from anseriform birds in their mode of development. Whereas ducks and geese are precocial (e.g., hatchlings feed on their own), parrots and songbirds are altricial (e.g., hatchlings are fed by their parents). We here consider how developmental modes may limit and facilitate specific changes in the mechanisms of brain development. We suggest that altriciality facilitates the evolution of telencephalic expansion by delaying telencephalic neurogenesis. We further hypothesize that delays in telencephalic neurogenesis generate delays in telencephalic maturation, which in turn foster neural adaptations that facilitate learning. Specifically, we propose that delaying telencephalic neurogenesis was a prerequisite for the evolution of neural circuits that allow parrots and songbirds to produce learned vocalizations. Overall, we argue that developmental modes have influenced how some lineages of birds increased the size of their telencephalon and that this, in turn, has influenced subsequent changes in brain circuits and behavior.
PMCID: PMC3037498  PMID: 21369349
bird; mode; development; proliferation; evolution
4.  Modeling Transformations of Neurodevelopmental Sequences across Mammalian Species 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(17):7368-7383.
A general model of neural development is derived to fit 18 mammalian species, including humans, macaques, several rodent species, and six metatherian (marsupial) mammals. The goal of this work is to describe heterochronic changes in brain evolution within its basic developmental allometry, and provide an empirical basis to recognize equivalent maturational states across animals. The empirical data generating the model comprises 271 developmental events, including measures of initial neurogenesis, axon extension, establishment, and refinement of connectivity, as well as later events such as myelin formation, growth of brain volume, and early behavioral milestones, to the third year of human postnatal life. The progress of neural events across species is sufficiently predictable that a single model can be used to predict the timing of all events in all species, with a correlation of modeled values to empirical data of 0.9929. Each species' rate of progress through the event scale, described by a regression equation predicting duration of development in days, is highly correlated with adult brain size. Neural heterochrony can be seen in selective delay of retinogenesis in the cat, associated with greater numbers of rods in its retina, and delay of corticogenesis in all species but rodents and the rabbit, associated with relatively larger cortices in species with delay. Unexpectedly, precocial mammals (those unusually mature at birth) delay the onset of first neurogenesis but then progress rapidly through remaining developmental events.
PMCID: PMC3928428  PMID: 23616543
5.  Evo-Devo and Brain Scaling: Candidate Developmental Mechanisms for Variation and Constancy in Vertebrate Brain Evolution 
Brain, Behavior and Evolution  2011;78(3):248-257.
Biologists have long been interested in both the regularities and the deviations in the relationship between brain, development, ecology, and behavior between taxa. We first examine some basic information about the observed ranges of fundamental changes in developmental parameters (i.e. neurogenesis timing, cell cycle rates, and gene expression patterns) between taxa. Next, we review what is known about the relative importance of different kinds of developmental mechanisms in producing brain change, focusing on mechanisms of segmentation, local and general features of neurogenesis, and cell cycle kinetics. We suggest that a limited set of developmental alterations of the vertebrate nervous system typically occur and that each kind of developmental change may entail unique anatomical, functional, and behavioral consequences for the organism. Thus, neuroecologists who posit a direct mapping of brain size to behavior should consider that not any change in brain anatomy is possible.
PMCID: PMC3221253  PMID: 21860220
Neurogenesis; Evolution; Development; Mammals; Birds
6.  Embracing covariation in brain evolution: Large brains, extended development, and flexible primate social systems 
Progress in Brain Research  2012;195:71-87.
Brain size, body size, developmental length, life span, costs of raising offspring, behavioral complexity, and social structures are correlated in mammals due to intrinsic life-history requirements. Dissecting variation and direction of causation in this web of relationships often draw attention away from the factors that correlate with basic life parameters. We consider the “social brain hypothesis,” which postulates that overall brain and the isocortex are selectively enlarged to confer social abilities in primates, as an example of this enterprise and pitfalls. We consider patterns of brain scaling, modularity, flexibility of brain organization, the “leverage,” and direction of selection on proposed dimensions. We conclude that the evidence supporting selective changes in isocortex or brain size for the isolated ability to manage social relationships is poor. Strong covariation in size and developmental duration coupled with flexible brains allow organisms to adapt in variable social and ecological environments across the life span and in evolution.
PMCID: PMC3327164  PMID: 22230623
evolution; primate; cortex; social; variation
7.  Systematic, balancing gradients in neuron density and number across the primate isocortex 
The cellular and areal organization of the cerebral cortex impacts how it processes and integrates information. How that organization emerges and how best to characterize it has been debated for over a century. Here we demonstrate and describe in the isocortices of seven primate species a pronounced anterior-to-posterior gradient in the density of neurons and in the number of neurons under a unit area of the cortical surface. Our findings assert that the cellular architecture of the primate isocortex is neither arranged uniformly nor into discrete patches with an arbitrary spatial arrangement. Rather, it exhibits striking systematic variation. We conjecture that these gradients, which establish the basic landscape that richer areal and cellular structure is built upon, result from developmental patterns of cortical neurogenesis which are conserved across species. Moreover, we propose a functional consequence: that the gradient in neurons per unit of cortical area fosters the integration and dimensional reduction of information along its ascent through sensory areas and toward frontal cortex.
PMCID: PMC3399120  PMID: 22826696
cortex; cortical areas; cytoarchitecture; evolutionary development; gradient; neurogenesis; primate evolution
8.  Bigger brains cycle faster before neurogenesis begins: a comparison of brain development between chickens and bobwhite quail 
The chicken brain is more than twice as big as the bobwhite quail brain in adulthood. To determine how this species difference in brain size emerges during development, we examined whether differences in neurogenesis timing or cell cycle rates account for the disparity in brain size between chickens and quail. Specifically, we examined the timing of neural events (e.g. neurogenesis onset) from Nissl-stained sections of chicken and quail embryos. We estimated brain cell cycle rates using cumulative bromodeoxyuridine labelling in chickens and quail at embryonic day (ED) 2 and at ED5. We report that the timing of neural events is highly conserved between chickens and quail, once time is expressed as a percentage of overall incubation period. In absolute time, neurogenesis begins earlier in chickens than in quail. Therefore, neural event timing cannot account for the expansion of the chicken brain relative to the quail brain. Cell cycle rates are also similar between the two species at ED5. However, at ED2, before neurogenesis onset, brain cells cycle faster in chickens than in quail. These data indicate that chickens have a larger brain than bobwhite quail mainly because of species differences in cell cycle rates during early stages of embryonic development.
PMCID: PMC2982228  PMID: 20534617
neurogenesis; cell cycle; brain; size; development
9.  Phylogenetic Origins of Early Alterations in Brain Region Proportions 
Brain, Behavior and Evolution  2010;75(2):104-110.
Adult galliform birds (e.g. chickens) exhibit a relatively small telencephalon and a proportionately large optic tectum compared with parrots and songbirds. We previously examined the embryonic origins of these adult species differences and found that the optic tectum is larger in quail than in parakeets and songbirds at early stages of development, prior to tectal neurogenesis onset. The aim of this study was to determine whether a proportionately large presumptive tectum is a primitive condition within birds or a derived feature of quail and other galliform birds. To this end, we examined embryonic brains of several avian species (emus, parrots, songbirds, waterfowl, galliform birds), reptiles (3 lizard species, alligators, turtles) and a monotreme (platypuses). Brain region volumes were estimated from serial Nissl-stained sections. We found that the embryos of galliform birds and lizards exhibit a proportionally larger presumptive tectum than all the other examined species. The presumptive tectum of the platypus is unusually small. The most parsimonious interpretation of these data is that the expanded embryonic tectum of lizards and galliform birds is a derived feature in both of these taxonomic groups.
PMCID: PMC2914409  PMID: 20332607
Bird; Development; Mammal; Monotreme; Reptile; Tectum; Vision
10.  Developmental basis for telencephalon expansion in waterfowl: enlargement prior to neurogenesis 
Some altricial and some precocial species of birds have evolved enlarged telencephalons compared with other birds. Previous work has shown that finches and parakeets, two species that hatch in an immature (i.e. altricial) state, enlarged their telencephalon by delaying telencephalic neurogenesis. To determine whether species that hatch in a relatively mature (i.e. precocial) state also enlarged their telencephalon by delaying telencephalic neurogenesis, we examined brain development in geese, ducks, turkeys and chickens, which are all precocial. Whereas the telencephalon occupies less than 55 per cent of the brain in chickens and turkeys, it occupies more than 65 per cent in ducks and geese. To determine how these species differences in adult brain region proportions arise during development, we examined brain maturation (i.e. neurogenesis timing) and estimated telencephalon, tectum and medulla volumes from serial Nissl-stained sections in the four species. We found that incubation time predicts the timing of neurogenesis in all major brain regions and that the telencephalon is proportionally larger in ducks and geese before telencephalic neurogenesis begins. These findings demonstrate that the expansion of the telencephalon in ducks and geese is achieved by altering development prior to neurogenesis onset. Thus, precocial and altricial species evolved different developmental strategies to expand their telencephalon.
PMCID: PMC2817193  PMID: 19605398
neurogenesis; Anseriformes; size; telencephalon; precocial; altricial
11.  Telencephalon enlargement by the convergent evolution of expanded subventricular zones 
Biology Letters  2008;5(1):134-137.
Some mammals and birds independently evolved an enlarged telencephalon. They appear to have done so, at least in part, by developing a thick telencephalic subventricular zone (SVZ). We suggest that this correlation between telencephalic enlargement and SVZ expansion is due to a mechanical constraint acting on the proliferative ventricular zone (VZ). Essentially, we argue that rapid proliferation in the VZ after post-mitotic cells in the overlying mantle zone have begun to form limits the VZ's tangential expandability and forces some proliferating cells to emigrate from the VZ and expand the pool of proliferating cells that comprise the SVZ.
PMCID: PMC2657736  PMID: 18842571
development; neocortex; birds

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