Evolution and genomics of the human brain

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Abstract

Most living beings are able to perform actions that can be considered intelligent or, at the very least, the result of an appropriate reaction to changing circumstances in their environment. However, the intelligence or intellectual processes of humans are vastly superior to those achieved by all other species. The adult human brain is a highly complex organ weighing approximately 1500 g, which accounts for only 2% of the total body weight but consumes an amount of energy equal to that required by all skeletal muscle at rest. Although the human brain displays a typical primate structure, it can be identified by its specific distinguishing features. The process of evolution and humanisation of the Homo sapiens brain resulted in a unique and distinct organ with the largest relative volume of any animal species. It also permitted structural reorganization of tissues and circuits in specific segments and regions. These steps explain the remarkable cognitive abilities of modern humans compared not only with other species in our genus, but also with older members of our own species. Brain evolution required the coexistence of two adaptation mechanisms. The first involves genetic changes that occur at the species level, and the second occurs at the individual level and involves changes in chromatin organisation or epigenetic changes. The genetic mechanisms include: a) genetic changes in coding regions that lead to changes in the sequence and activity of existing proteins; b) duplication and deletion of previously existing genes; c) changes in gene expression through changes in the regulatory sequences of different genes; and d) synthesis of non-coding RNAs. Lastly, this review describes some of the main documented chromosomal differences between humans and great apes. These differences have also contributed to the evolution and humanisation process of the H. sapiens brain.

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Rosales-Reynoso, M. A., Juárez-Vázquez, C. I., & Barros-Núñez, P. (2018, May 1). Evolution and genomics of the human brain. Neurologia. Spanish Society of Neurology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nrl.2015.06.002

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