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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2006 Jul 7;345(3):911-6. Epub 2006 May 15.

Molecular genetic determinants of human brain size.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, 8 Medical Drive, Singapore 117597, Singapore.


Cognitive skills such as tool use, syntactical languages, and self-awareness differentiate humans from other primates. The underlying basis for this cognitive difference has been widely associated with a high encephalization quotient and an anatomically distinct, exceptionally large cerebral cortex. Investigations on congenital microcephaly had revealed several genes that affect mammalian brain size when mutated. At least four of these, microcephalin (MCPH1), abnormal spindle-like microcephaly-associated (ASPM), cyclin-dependent kinase 5 regulatory associated protein 2 (CDK5RAP2), and centromere-associated protein J (CENPJ) are known to have undergone significant positive selection in the great apes and human lineages during primate evolution. MCPH1 and ASPM both have very young single nucleotide polymorphism haplotypes associated with modern humans, and these genes are presumably still evolving in Homo sapiens. Microcephalin has a role in DNA damage response and regulation of cell cycle checkpoints. The other known microcephaly-associated genes encode microtubule-associated centrosomal proteins that might regulate neural progenitor cell division and cell number. Recent reports have also unveiled a previously unknown function of ephrins and Eph in the regulation of neural progenitor cell death with a consequential effect on brain size. Understanding the mechanism for developmental control of brain organogenesis by these genes, and others such as FOXP2, shall provide fresh perspectives on the evolution of human intelligence.

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