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Transcriptional neoteny in the human brain

Somel, Mehmet
Franz, Henriette
Yan, Zheng
Lorenc, Anna
Guo, Song
Giger, Thomas
Kelso, Janet
Nickel, Birgit
Dannemann, Michael
Bahn, Sabine
Webster, Maree J.
Weickert, Cynthia S.
Lachmann, Michael
Paeaebo, Svante
Khaitovich, Philipp
In development, timing is of the utmost importance, and the timing of developmental processes often changes as organisms evolve. In human evolution, developmental retardation, or neoteny, has been proposed as a possible mechanism that contributed to the rise of many human-specific features, including an increase in brain size and the emergence of human-specific cognitive traits. We analyzed mRNA expression in the prefrontal cortex of humans, chimpanzees, and rhesus macaques to determine whether human-specific neotenic changes are present at the gene expression level. We show that the brain transcriptome is dramatically remodeled during postnatal development and that developmental changes in the human brain are indeed delayed relative to other primates. This delay is not uniform across the human transcriptome but affects a specific subset of genes that play a potential role in neural development.