Relaxed genetic control of cortical organization in human brains compared with chimpanzees.
The study of hominin brain evolution has focused largely on the neocortical expansion and reorganization undergone by humans as inferred from the endocranial fossil record. Comparisons of modern human brains with those of chimpanzees provide an additional line of evidence to define key neural traits that have emerged in human evolution and that underlie our unique behavioral specializations. In an attempt to identify fundamental developmental differences, we have estimated the genetic bases of brain size and cortical organization in chimpanzees and humans by studying phenotypic similarities between individuals with known kinship relationships. We show that, although heritability for brain size and cortical organization is high in chimpanzees, cerebral cortical anatomy is substantially less genetically heritable than brain size in humans, indicating greater plasticity and increased environmental influence on neurodevelopment in our species. This relaxed genetic control on cortical organization is especially marked in association areas and likely is related to underlying microstructural changes in neural circuitry. A major result of increased plasticity is that the development of neural circuits that underlie behavior is shaped by the environmental, social, and cultural context more intensively in humans than in other primate species, thus providing an anatomical basis for behavioral and cognitive evolution.