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J Hum Evol. 2014 Dec;77:132-40. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.05.016. Epub 2014 Aug 7.

The appropriation of glucose through primate neurodevelopment.

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Department of Anthropology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052, USA; Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.


The human brain is considerably larger and more energetically costly than that of other primate species. As such, discovering how human ancestors were able to provide sufficient energy to their brains is a central theme in the study of hominin evolution. However, many discussions of metabolism frequently omit the different ways in which energy, primarily glucose, is used once made available to the brain. In this review, we discuss two glucose metabolic pathways, oxidative phosphorylation and aerobic glycolysis, and their respective contributions to the energetic and anabolic budgets of the brain. While oxidative phosphorylation is a more efficient producer of energy, aerobic glycolysis contributes essential molecules for the growth of the brain and maintaining the structure of its cells. Although both pathways occur in the brain throughout the lifetime, aerobic glycolysis is a critical pathway during development, and oxidative phosphorylation is highest during adulthood. We outline how elevated levels of aerobic glycolysis may support the protracted neurodevelopmental sequence of humans compared with other primates. Finally, we review the genetic evidence for differences in metabolic function in the brains of primates and explore genes that may provide insight into how glucose metabolism may differ across species.


Aerobic glycolysis; Brain energetics; Comparative genetics; Development; Human evolution; Oxidative phosphorylation

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