Brain development during embryonic stage and infancy makes us unique

Brain development during embryonic stage and infancy makes us unique

News from IBE

The study of evolutionarily close models, such as the macaques, allows us to approach the complexity of our own nervous system and its extensive developmental process and find some characteristics of our neuro-development that distinguish us from our closest living relatives.

Now, for the first time, a team of researchers has identified two periods of neurological development that differentiate us, and that could lead to the emergence of specifically human cognitive abilities. 

The study, led by Yale University and with the participation of researchers from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) and published in Science, reveals that our unique cognitive abilities develop in the embryonic period and during childhood.

"The human fetus develops its brain for a longer period of time than the macaques, surpassing it by several weeks. The neuronal system of human infants also matures more slowly and for a longer period of time than the macaques one", says Tomàs Marquès-Bonet, ICREA research professor at UPF and director of IBE, and one of the authors of the study. "This slower maturation could provide greater neuronal plasticity to humans during childhood, allowing greater ability for learning, memory and sensory perception, all features of a cognitive ability of the highest level."

The piece of research also revealed that several genes related to the risk of suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders exhibit differences in their expression in humans and macaques.


Ying Zhu, André M. M. Sousa, Tianliuyun Gao, Mario Skarica, Mingfeng Li, Gabriel Santpere, Paula Esteller-Cucala, David Juan, Luis Ferrández-Peral, Forrest O. Gulden, Mo Yang, Daniel J. Miller, Tomas Marques-Bonet, Yuka Imamura Kawasawa, Hongyu Zhao, Nenad Sestan. Spatiotemporal transcriptomic divergence across human and macaque brain development; Science 362, Issue 6420, eaat8077 (2018). DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8077 

More information:
IBE website
UPF website