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Fossil Evidence on Origin of the Mammalian Brain

Science  20 May 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6032, pp. 955-957
DOI: 10.1126/science.1203117

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Abstract

Many hypotheses have been postulated regarding the early evolution of the mammalian brain. Here, x-ray tomography of the Early Jurassic mammaliaforms Morganucodon and Hadrocodium sheds light on this history. We found that relative brain size expanded to mammalian levels, with enlarged olfactory bulbs, neocortex, olfactory (pyriform) cortex, and cerebellum, in two evolutionary pulses. The initial pulse was probably driven by increased resolution in olfaction and improvements in tactile sensitivity (from body hair) and neuromuscular coordination. A second pulse of olfactory enhancement then enlarged the brain to mammalian levels. The origin of crown Mammalia saw a third pulse of olfactory enhancement, with ossified ethmoid turbinals supporting an expansive olfactory epithelium in the nasal cavity, allowing full expression of a huge odorant receptor genome.

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