Primate Brain Evolution: Genetic and Functional Considerations

Eric B. Keverne, Fran L. Martel, Claire M. Nevison

Abstract

Functionally distinct regions of the brain to which maternal and paternal genomes contribute differentially (through genomic imprinting) have developed differentially over phylogenetic time. While certain regions of the primate forebrain (neocortex, striatum) have expanded relative to the rest of the brain, other forebrain regions have contracted in size (hypothalamus, septum). Areas of relative expansion are those to which the maternal genome makes a substantial developmental contribution. This may be significant with respect to the importance of primate forebrain expansion in the development of complex behavioural strategies and the way in which these are deployed, especially by the matriline. In many primate societies the maintenance of social cohesion and group continuity over successive generations is dependent on the matriline, with high ranking females producing high ranking daughters that stay within the group. Regions of relative contraction are those to which the paternal genome makes a differential contribution and these are target areas for gonadal hormones, which is congruent with the diminished role for gonadal hormones in the emancipation of primate reproductive behaviour.