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Comparative developmental studies of the mammalian brain can identify key changes that can generate the diverse structures and functions of the brain. We have studied how the neocortex of early mammals became organized into functionally distinct areas, and how the current level of cortical cellular and laminar specialization arose from the simpler premammalian cortex. We demonstrate the neocortical organization in early mammals, which helps to elucidate how the large, complex human brain evolved from a long line of ancestors. The radial and tangential enlargement of the cortex was driven by changes in the patterns of cortical neurogenesis, including alterations in the proportions of distinct progenitor types. Some cortical cell populations travel to the cortex through tangential migration whereas others migrate radially. A number of recent studies have begun to characterize the chick, mouse and human and nonhuman primate cortical transcriptome to help us understand how gene expression relates to the development and anatomical and functional organization of the adult neocortex. Although all mammalian forms share the basic layout of cortical areas, the areal proportions and distributions are driven by distinct evolutionary pressures acting on sensory and motor experiences during the individual ontogenies.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Behav Evol

Publication Date





126 - 139


Animals, Biological Evolution, Cerebral Cortex, Humans, Mammals, Neocortex, Neurogenesis, Neurons