Rickelton and Babbitt Examine Brain Gene Expression Evolution at an Unprecedented Scale in Primates

elife

Primate evolution has led to a remarkable diversity of behavioral specializations and pronounced brain size variation among species. Gene expression provides a promising opportunity for studying the molecular basis of brain evolution, but it has been explored in very few primate species to date. To understand the landscape of gene expression evolution across the primate lineage, we generated and analyzed RNA-seq data from four brain regions in an unprecedented eighteen species. Here, we show a remarkable level of variation in gene expression among hominid species, including humans and chimpanzees, despite their relatively recent divergence time from other primates. We found that individual genes display a wide range of expression dynamics across evolutionary time reflective of the diverse selection pressures acting on genes within primate brain tissue. Using our samples that represent a 190-fold difference in primate brain size, we identified genes with variation in expression most correlated with brain size. Our study extensively broadens the phylogenetic context of what is known about the molecular evolution of the brain across primates and identifies novel candidate genes for the study of genetic regulation of brain evolution. It was published in eLife and can be found HERE.