Human-specific ARHGAP11B ensures human-like basal progenitor levels in hominid cerebral organoids

EMBO Rep. 2022 Nov 7;23(11):e54728. doi: 10.15252/embr.202254728. Epub 2022 Sep 13.


The human-specific gene ARHGAP11B has been implicated in human neocortex expansion. However, the extent of ARHGAP11B's contribution to this expansion during hominid evolution is unknown. Here we address this issue by genetic manipulation of ARHGAP11B levels and function in chimpanzee and human cerebral organoids. ARHGAP11B expression in chimpanzee cerebral organoids doubles basal progenitor levels, the class of cortical progenitors with a key role in neocortex expansion. Conversely, interference with ARHGAP11B's function in human cerebral organoids decreases basal progenitors down to the chimpanzee level. Moreover, ARHGAP11A or ARHGAP11B rescue experiments in ARHGAP11A plus ARHGAP11B double-knockout human forebrain organoids indicate that lack of ARHGAP11B, but not of ARHGAP11A, decreases the abundance of basal radial glia-the basal progenitor type thought to be of particular relevance for neocortex expansion. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that ARHGAP11B is necessary and sufficient to ensure the elevated basal progenitor levels that characterize the fetal human neocortex, suggesting that this human-specific gene was a major contributor to neocortex expansion during human evolution.

Keywords: ARHGAP11B; brain organoids; human-specific genes; neocortex development; neocortex evolution.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins / genetics
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins / metabolism
  • Hominidae* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neocortex* / metabolism
  • Neural Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Neurogenesis / genetics
  • Organoids / metabolism
  • Pan troglodytes / genetics
  • Pan troglodytes / metabolism


  • ARHGAP11B protein, human
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins