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Cereb Cortex. 2015 Jun;25(6):1596-607. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht354. Epub 2014 Jan 9.

Analysis of synaptic gene expression in the neocortex of primates reveals evolutionary changes in glutamatergic neurotransmission.

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Department of Anthropology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052, USA.
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27707, USA North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Nature Research Center, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA Department of Biology, NC Central University, Durham, NC 27707, USA.
Fishberg Department of Neuroscience and Friedman Brain Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY 10029 New York Consortium for Primate Evolution, New York, NY 10024, USA.
Alamogordo Primate Facility, Holloman Air Force Base, NM 88330, USA.
Neuroscience Institute and Language Research Center, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30302, USA.
Department of Anthropology and School of Biomedical Sciences, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242, USA.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland, OH 44109, USA.
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27707, USA Biology Department, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.


Increased relative brain size characterizes the evolution of primates, suggesting that enhanced cognition plays an important part in the behavioral adaptations of this mammalian order. In addition to changes in brain anatomy, cognition can also be regulated by molecular changes that alter synaptic function, but little is known about modifications of synapses in primate brain evolution. The aim of the current study was to investigate the expression patterns and evolution of 20 synaptic genes from the prefrontal cortex of 12 primate species. The genes investigated included glutamate receptors, scaffolding proteins, synaptic vesicle components, as well as factors involved in synaptic vesicle release and structural components of the nervous system. Our analyses revealed that there have been significant changes during primate brain evolution in the components of the glutamatergic signaling pathway in terms of gene expression, protein expression, and promoter sequence changes. These results could entail functional modifications in the regulation of specific genes related to processes underlying learning and memory.


brain evolution; glutamatergic neurotransmission; prefrontal cortex; synapse

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