Genetic variations within human gained enhancer elements affect human brain sulcal morphology
. 2021-09-11; :
The expansion of the cerebral cortex is one of the most distinctive changes in the evolution of the human brain. Cortical expansion and related increases in cortical folding may have contributed to emergence of our capacities for high-order cognitive abilities. Molecular analysis of humans, archaic hominins, and non-human primates has allowed identification of chromosomal regions showing evolutionary changes at different points of our phylogenetic history. In this study, we assessed the contributions of genomic annotations spanning 30 million years to human sulcal morphology measured via MRI in more than 18,000 participants from the UK Biobank. We found that variation within brain-expressed human gained enhancers, regulatory genetic elements that emerged since our last common ancestor with Old World monkeys, explained more trait heritability than expected for the left and right calloso-marginal posterior fissures and the right central sulcus. Intriguingly, these are sulci that have been previously linked to the evolution of locomotion in primates and later on bipedalism in our hominin ancestors.