DUF1220 protein domains drive proliferation in human neural stem cells and are associated with increased cortical volume in anthropoid primates

Brain Struct Funct. 2015 Sep;220(5):3053-60. doi: 10.1007/s00429-014-0814-9. Epub 2014 Jun 25.


Genome sequences encoding DUF1220 protein domains show a burst in copy number among anthropoid species and especially humans, where they have undergone the greatest human lineage-specific copy number expansion of any protein coding sequence in the genome. While DUF1220 copy number shows a dosage-related association with brain size in both normal populations and in 1q21.1-associated microcephaly and macrocephaly, a function for these domains has not yet been described. Here we provide multiple lines of evidence supporting the view that DUF1220 domains function as drivers of neural stem cell proliferation among anthropoid species including humans. First, we show that brain MRI data from 131 individuals across 7 anthropoid species shows a strong correlation between DUF1220 copy number and multiple brain size-related measures. Using in situ hybridization analyses of human fetal brain, we also show that DUF1220 domains are expressed in the ventricular zone and primarily during human cortical neurogenesis, and are therefore expressed at the right time and place to be affecting cortical brain development. Finally, we demonstrate that in vitro expression of DUF1220 sequences in neural stem cells strongly promotes proliferation. Taken together, these data provide the strongest evidence so far reported implicating DUF1220 dosage in anthropoid and human brain expansion through mechanisms involving increasing neural stem cell proliferation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Primates
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / physiology
  • Young Adult