Understanding the evolution of Mammalian brain structures; the need for a (new) cerebrotype approach

Brain Sci. 2012 May 18;2(2):203-24. doi: 10.3390/brainsci2020203.


The mammalian brain varies in size by a factor of 100,000 and is composed of anatomically and functionally distinct structures. Theoretically, the manner in which brain composition can evolve is limited, ranging from highly modular ("mosaic evolution") to coordinated changes in brain structure size ("concerted evolution") or anything between these two extremes. There is a debate about the relative importance of these distinct evolutionary trends. It is shown here that the presence of taxa-specific allometric relationships between brain structures makes a taxa-specific approach obligatory. In some taxa, the evolution of the size of brain structures follows a unique, coordinated pattern, which, in addition to other characteristics at different anatomical levels, defines what has been called here a "taxon cerebrotype". In other taxa, no clear pattern is found, reflecting heterogeneity of the species' lifestyles. These results suggest that the evolution of brain size and composition depends on the complex interplay between selection pressures and constraints that have changed constantly during mammalian evolution. Therefore the variability in brain composition between species should not be considered as deviations from the normal, concerted mammalian trend, but in taxa and species-specific versions of the mammalian brain. Because it forms homogenous groups of species within this complex "space" of constraints and selection pressures, the cerebrotype approach developed here could constitute an adequate level of analysis for evo-devo studies, and by extension, for a wide range of disciplines related to brain evolution.