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Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Mar 27;280(1759):20130269. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.0269. Print 2013 May 22.

Brain reorganization, not relative brain size, primarily characterizes anthropoid brain evolution.

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Department of Anthropology, University College London, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW, UK.


Comparative analyses of primate brain evolution have highlighted changes in size and internal organization as key factors underlying species diversity. It remains, however, unclear (i) how much variation in mosaic brain reorganization versus variation in relative brain size contributes to explaining the structural neural diversity observed across species, (ii) which mosaic changes contribute most to explaining diversity, and (iii) what the temporal origin, rates and processes are that underlie evolutionary shifts in mosaic reorganization for individual branches of the primate tree of life. We address these questions by combining novel comparative methods that allow assessing the temporal origin, rate and process of evolutionary changes on individual branches of the tree of life, with newly available data on volumes of key brain structures (prefrontal cortex, frontal motor areas and cerebrocerebellum) for a sample of 17 species (including humans). We identify patterns of mosaic change in brain evolution that mirror brain systems previously identified by electrophysiological and anatomical tract-tracing studies in non-human primates and functional connectivity MRI studies in humans. Across more than 40 Myr of anthropoid primate evolution, mosaic changes contribute more to explaining neural diversity than changes in relative brain size, and different mosaic patterns are differentially selected for when brains increase or decrease in size. We identify lineage-specific evolutionary specializations for all branches of the tree of life covered by our sample and demonstrate deep evolutionary roots for mosaic patterns associated with motor control and learning.

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