A Brain-Building Gene, Unique to Humans?

Researchers identify gene they suggest was likely a key to evolution of the human brain.

Researchers have identified a gene that likely contributed to the physical expansion of the human neocortex—an event that is considered to be a hallmark of primate evolution, especially in humans. The gene, known as ARHGAP11B, can be found in modern humans, Neandertals, and Denisovans, and it drives the proliferation of neural progenitor cells that build the brain’s neocortex, according to a new study.

The neocortex is the region of the brain that is involved in sensory perception, motor commands, conscious thought, and language.

Marta Florio and colleagues investigated genes that may have facilitated a thicker neocortex. After combing through candidate genes expressed in populations of progenitor cells, the researchers identified ARHGAP11B as a hominin-specific gene. The researchers suggest that it arose on the human lineage soon after humans diverged from chimpanzees, and that it helps to differentiate humans and hominins from the more evolutionarily ancient chimps. When Florio and her colleagues expressed the uniquely human gene in a developing mouse brain, they found that the sub-ventricular zone of the rodent’s neocortex grew much larger than it would have in a normal mouse.


cerebralcortexmouseEmbryonic mouse cerebral cortex stained for cell nuclei (cyan) and a marker of deep-layer neurons (Ctip2, red). The human-specific gene ARHGAP11B was selectively expressed in the right hemisphere: note the folding of the neocortical surface. Credit: Marta Florio and Wieland B. Huttner, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics


The detailed article is published in the journal Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Source: Edited from a press release provided by the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics


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