Research Article

Molecular and cellular reorganization of neural circuits in the human lineage

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Science  24 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6366, pp. 1027-1032
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan3456

The makings of the primate brain

Although nonhuman primate brains are similar to our own, the disparity between their and our cognitive abilities tells us that surface similarity is not the whole story. Sousa et al. overlaid transcriptome and histological analyses to see what makes human brains different from those of nonhuman primates. Various differentially expressed genes, such as those encoding transcription factors, could alter transcriptional programs. Others were associated with neuromodulatory systems. Furthermore, the dopaminergic interneurons found in the human neocortex were absent from the neocortex of nonhuman African apes. Such differences in neuronal transcriptional programs may underlie a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Science, this issue p. 1027


To better understand the molecular and cellular differences in brain organization between human and nonhuman primates, we performed transcriptome sequencing of 16 regions of adult human, chimpanzee, and macaque brains. Integration with human single-cell transcriptomic data revealed global, regional, and cell-type–specific species expression differences in genes representing distinct functional categories. We validated and further characterized the human specificity of genes enriched in distinct cell types through histological and functional analyses, including rare subpallial-derived interneurons expressing dopamine biosynthesis genes enriched in the human striatum and absent in the nonhuman African ape neocortex. Our integrated analysis of the generated data revealed diverse molecular and cellular features of the phylogenetic reorganization of the human brain across multiple levels, with relevance for brain function and disease.

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