Transcriptional neoteny in the human brain

Mehmet Somel, Henriette Franz, Zheng Yan, Anna Lorenc, Song Guo, Thomas Giger, Janet Kelso, Birgit Nickel, Michael Dannemann, Sabine Bahn, Maree J. Webster, Cynthia S. Weickert, Michael Lachmann, Svante Pääbo, Philipp Khaitovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

244 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5743-5748
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain development
  • Gene expression
  • Heterochrony chimpanzee
  • Human evolution


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