Human brain evolution: How the increase of brain plasticity made us a cultural species

Aida Gómez-Robles, Chet C. Sherwood

Abstract


Why are humans so different from other primate species? What makes us so capable of creating language, art and music? The specializations in human brain anatomy that are responsible for our unique behavioral and cognitive traits evolved over a very short period of evolutionary time (between six and eight million years). Recent evidence suggests that, alongside a reorganization of the brain and an increase in its size, neural plasticity may also play a major role in explaining the evolutionary history of our species. Plasticity is the propensity of the brain to be molded by external influences, including the ecological, social and cultural context. The impact of these environmental influences in shaping human behavior has been long recognized, but it has been only recently that scientists have started discovering the more pronounced plasticity of human brains compared to our close relatives.


References


Bermúdez de Castro, J. M., Martinón-Torres,

M., Prado, L., Gómez-Robles, A., Rosell,

J., López-Polín, L., ...… Carbonell, J. L.

(2010). New immature hominin fossil from

European Lower Pleistocene shows the

earliest evidence of a modern human dental

development pattern. Proceedings of the

National Academy of Sciences, 107(26),

–11744. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1006772107

Bianchi, S., Stimpson, C. D., Duka, T., Larsen,

M. D., Janssen, W. G. M., Collins, Z., …

Sherwood, C. C. (2013). Synaptogenesis

and development of pyramidal neuron

dendritic morphology in the chimpanzee

neocortex resembles humans. Proceedings

of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(2),

–103401. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1301224110

Bruner, E., De La Cuétara, J. M., & Holloway,

R. L. (2011). A bivariate approach to the

variation of the parietal curvature in the genus Homo. The Anatomical

Record, 294(9), 1548–1556. doi: 10.1002/ar.21450

Dennis, M. Y., Nuttle, X., Sudmant, P. H., Antonacci, F., Graves, T. A.,

Nefedov, M., … Eichler, E. E. (2012). Evolution of human-specific neural

SRGAP2 genes by incomplete segmental duplication. Cell, 149(4), 912–

doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.03.033

Dunsworth, H. M., Warrener, A. G., Deacon, T., Ellison, P. T., & Pontzer,

H. (2012). Metabolic hypothesis for human altriciality. Proceedings of

the National Academy of Sciences, 109(38), 15212–15216. doi: 10.1073/

pnas.1205282109

Enard, W., Gehre, S., Hammerschmidt, K., Hölter, S. M., Blass, T., Somel.

M., … Pääbo, S. (2009). A humanized version of FOXP2 affects corticobasal

ganglia circuits in mice. Cell, 137(5): 961–971. doi: 10.1016/j.

cell.2009.03.041

Fjell, A. M., Westlye, L. T., Amlien, I., Tamnes, C. K., Grydeland, H.,

Engvig, A., … Walhovd, K. B. (2015). High-expanding cortical regions

in human development and evolution are related to higher intellectual

abilities. Cerebral Cortex, 25(1), 26–34. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht201

Gokhman, D., Lavi, W., Prüfer, K., Fraga, M. F., Riancho, J. A., Kelso, J.,

… Carmel, L. (2014). Reconstructing the DNA methylation maps of the

Neandertal and the Denisovan. Science, 344(6183), 523–527. doi: 10.1126/

science.1250368

Gómez-Robles, A., Hopkins, W. D., Schapiro, S. J., & Sherwood, C. C.

(2015). Relaxed genetic control of cortical organization in human brains

compared with chimpanzees. Proceedings of the National Academy of

Sciences, 112(51), 14799–14804. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1512646112

Gunz, P., Neubauer, S., Maureille, B., & Hublin, J. J. (2010). Brain

development after birth differs between Neanderthals and modern

humans. Current Biology, 20(21), R921–R922. doi: 10.1016/j.

cub.2010.10.018

Hill, J., Inder, T., Neil, J., Dierker, D., Harwell, J., & Van Essen, D. (2010).

Similar patterns of cortical expansion during human development and

evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(29),

–13140. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1001229107

Hublin, J. J., Neubauer, S., & Gunz, P. (2015). Brain ontogeny and life

history in Pleistocene hominins. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal

Society B, 370(1663), 20140062. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0062

Maricic, T., Günther, V., Georgiev, O., Gehre, S., Curlin, M., Schreiweis,

C., … Pääbo, S. (2013). A recent evolutionary change affects a regulatory

element in the human FOXP2 gene. Molecular Biology and Evolution,

(4), 844–852. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss271

Martínez-Abadias, N., Esparza, E., Sjøvold, T., González-José, R., Santos,

M., Hernández, M., & Klingenberg, C. P. (2012). Pervasive genetic

integration directs the evolution of human skull shape. Evolution, 66(4),

–1023. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01496.x

Miller, D. J., Duka, T., Stimpson, C. D., Schapiro, S. J., Baze., W. B.,

McArthur, M. J., … Sherwood, C. C. (2012). Prolonged myelination in

human neocortical evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy

of Sciences, 109(41), 16480–16485. doi:

1073/pnas.1117943109

Petanjek, Z., Judaš, M., Šimić, G., Rašin, M.

R., Uylings, H. B. M., Rakic, P., & Kostović,

I. (2011). Extraordinary neoteny of synaptic

spines in the human prefrontal cortex.

Proceedings of the National Academy

of Sciences, 108(32), 13281–13286. doi:

1073/pnas.1105108108

Portmann, A. (1969). Biologische Fragmente

zu einer Lehre vom Menschen. Basel: Benno

Schwabe.

Rosenberg, K. R. (1992). The evolution

of modern human childbirth. American

Journal of Physical Anthropology, 35(S15),

–124. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.1330350605

Sacher, G. A., & Staffeldt, E. F. (1974).

Relation of gestation time to brain weight

for placental mammals: Implications for

the theory of vertebrate growth. American

Naturalist, 108(963), 593–615.

Sakai, T., Matsui, M., Mikami, A., Malkova,

L., Hamada, Y., Tomonaga, M., … Matsuzawa, T. (2012). Developmental

patterns of chimpanzee cerebral tissues provide important clues

for understanding the remarkable enlargement of the human brain.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 280(1753), 20122398. doi: 10.1098/

rspb.2012.2398

Schuppli, C., Isler, K., & Van Schaik, C. P. (2012). How to explain the

unusually late age at skill competence among humans. Journal of Human

Evolution, 63(6), 843–850. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.08.009

Smith, T. M., Tafforeau, P., Reid, D. J., Pouech, J., Lazzari, V., & Zermeno,

J. P. (2010). Dental evidence for ontogenetic differences between modern

humans and Neanderthals. Proceedings of the National Academy of

Sciences, 107(49), 20923–20928. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1010906107

Tau, G. Z., & Peterson, B. S. (2009). Normal development of brain circuits.

Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(1), 147–168. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.115


Full Text: PDF



Creative Commons License
Texts in the journal are –unless otherwise indicated– published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________