A small step for the cell, a giant leap for mankind: a hypothesis of neocortical expansion during evolution

Trends Neurosci. 1995 Sep;18(9):383-8. doi: 10.1016/0166-2236(95)93934-p.


The more than 1000-fold increase in the cortical surface without a comparable increase in its thickness during mammalian evolution is explained in the context of the radial-unit hypothesis of cortical development. According to the proposed model, cortical expansion is the result of changes in proliferation kinetics that increase the number of radial columnar units without changing the number of neurons within each unit significantly. Thus, mutation of a regulatory gene(s) that controls the timing and ratio of symmetric and asymmetric modes of cell divisions in the proliferative zone, coupled with radial constraints in the distribution of migrating neurons, could create an expanded cortical plate with enhanced capacity for establishing new patterns of connectivity that are validated through natural selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*