October 30, 2020

Cutting across structural and transcriptomic scales translates time across the lifespan and resolves frontal cortex development in human evolution

How the unique capacities of human cognition arose in evolution is a question of enduring interest. It is still unclear which developmental programs are responsible for the emergence of the human brain. The inability to determine corresponding ages between humans and apes has hampered progress in detecting developmental programs leading to the emergence of the human brain. I harness temporal variation in anatomical, behavioral, and transcriptional variation to determine corresponding ages from fetal to postnatal development and aging, between humans and chimpanzees. This multi-dimensional approach results in 137 corresponding time points across the lifespan, from embryonic day 44 to ~55 years of age, in humans and their equivalent ages in chimpanzees. I used these data to test whether developmental programs, such as the timeline of prefrontal cortex maturation, previously claimed to differ between humans and chimpanzees, do so once variation in developmental schedules is controlled for. I compared the maturation of frontal cortex projections from structural magnetic resonance (MR) scans and from temporal variation in the expression of genes used to track long-range projecting neurons (i.e., supragranular-enirhced genes) in chimpanzees and humans. Contrary to what has been suggested, the timetable of prefrontal cortex maturation is not unusually extended in humans. This dataset, which is the largest with which to determine corresponding ages across humans and chimpanzees, provides a rigorous approach to control for variation in developmental schedules and to identify developmental programs responsible for unique features of the human brain.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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