Brain size and limits to adult neurogenesis

J Comp Neurol. 2016 Feb 15;524(3):646-64. doi: 10.1002/cne.23896. Epub 2015 Sep 28.


The walls of the cerebral ventricles in the developing embryo harbor the primary neural stem cells from which most neurons and glia derive. In many vertebrates, neurogenesis continues postnatally and into adulthood in this region. Adult neurogenesis at the ventricle has been most extensively studied in organisms with small brains, such as reptiles, birds, and rodents. In reptiles and birds, these progenitor cells give rise to young neurons that migrate into many regions of the forebrain. Neurogenesis in adult rodents is also relatively widespread along the lateral ventricles, but migration is largely restricted to the rostral migratory stream into the olfactory bulb. Recent work indicates that the wall of the lateral ventricle is highly regionalized, with progenitor cells giving rise to different types of neurons depending on their location. In species with larger brains, young neurons born in these spatially specified domains become dramatically separated from potential final destinations. Here we hypothesize that the increase in size and topographical complexity (e.g., intervening white matter tracts) in larger brains may severely limit the long-term contribution of new neurons born close to, or in, the ventricular wall. We compare the process of adult neuronal birth, migration, and integration across species with different brain sizes, and discuss how early regional specification of progenitor cells may interact with brain size and affect where and when new neurons are added.

Keywords: brain evolution; comparative neuroanatomy; neuronal replacement; plasticity; regional specification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult Stem Cells / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Stem Cells / physiology
  • Neurogenesis / physiology*
  • Organ Size