Beyond neuroanatomy: novel approaches to studying brain evolution

Brain Behav Evol. 2008;72(2):145-58. doi: 10.1159/000151474. Epub 2008 Oct 7.


The study of the evolution of brain structure and function, although fascinating, has been contentious, largely due to the correlative nature of neuroanatomical comparisons and the often ill-defined categorizations of habitat and behavior. We outline four conceptual approaches that will help the field of brain evolution emerge from a historical focus on descriptive comparative neuroanatomy. First, reliable, efficient and unbiased behavioral assays must be developed to characterize relevant cross-species differences in addition to focused studies of neuroanatomy. Second, developmental and physiological processes underlying neuroanatomical and behavioral differences can be analyzed using the comparative approach. Third, genome-wide comparisons including genome-wide linkage mapping, transcriptional profiling, and direct sequence comparisons, can be applied to identify the genetic basis for phenotypic differences. Finally, signatures of selection in DNA sequence can provide clues about adaptive genetic changes that affect the nervous system. These four approaches, which all depend on well-resolved phylogenies, will build on detailed neuroanatomical studies to provide a richer understanding of mechanistic and selective factors underlying brain evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Models, Biological
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Species Specificity