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Trends Neurosci. 2008 Dec;31(12):637-44. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2008.08.010. Epub 2008 Oct 8.

Genetic basis of human brain evolution.

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Division of Neurochemistry, New England Primate Research Center, Harvard Medical School, Southborough, MA 01772, USA.


Human evolution is characterized by a rapid increase in brain size and complexity. Decades of research have made important strides in identifying anatomical and physiological substrates underlying the unique features of the human brain. By contrast, it has become possible only very recently to examine the genetic basis of human brain evolution. Through comparative genomics, tantalizing insights regarding human brain evolution have emerged. The genetic changes that potentially underlie human brain evolution span a wide range from single-nucleotide substitutions to large-scale structural alterations of the genome. Similarly, the functional consequences of these genetic changes vary greatly, including protein-sequence alterations, cis-regulatory changes and even the emergence of new genes and the extinction of existing ones. Here, we provide a general review of recent findings into the genetic basis of human brain evolution, highlight the most notable trends that have emerged and caution against over-interpretation of current data.

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