Comparative studies of hominids have long sought to identify mutational events that shaped the evolution of the human nervous system. However, functional genetic differences are outnumbered by millions of nearly neutral mutations, and the developmental mechanisms underlying human nervous system specializations are difficult to model and incompletely understood. Candidate-gene studies have attempted to map select human-specific genetic differences to neurodevelopmental functions, but it remains unclear how to contextualize the relative effects of genes that are investigated independently. Considering these limitations, we discuss scalable approaches for probing the functional contributions of human-specific genetic differences. We propose that a systems-level view will enable a more quantitative and integrative understanding of the genetic, molecular and cellular underpinnings of human nervous system evolution.
Keywords: Brain organoid models; CRISPR screens; Cis-regulatory evolution; Effect size distribution; Evolutionary genetics; Gene duplication; Human brain evolution; MPRA; Neural development; Population genetics; Single-cell RNA-Sequencing.
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