A dual comparative approach: integrating lines of evidence from human evolutionary neuroanatomy and neurodevelopmental disorders.
The evolution of the human brain has been marked by a nearly 3-fold increase in size since our divergence from the last common ancestor shared with chimpanzees and bonobos. Despite increased interest in comparative neuroanatomy and phylogenetic methods, relatively little is known regarding the effects that this enlargement has had on its internal organization, and how certain areas of the brain have differentially expanded over evolutionary time. Analyses of the microstructure of several regions of the human cortex and subcortical structures have demonstrated subtle changes at the cellular and molecular level, suggesting that the human brain is more than simply a 'scaled-up' primate brain. Ongoing research in comparative neuroanatomy has much to offer regarding our understanding of human brain evolution. Through analysis of the neuroanatomical phenotype at the level of reorganization in cytoarchitecture and cellular morphology, new data continue to highlight changes in cell density and organization associated with volumetric changes in discrete regions. An understanding of the functional significance of variation in neural circuitry can further be approached through studies of atypical human development. Many neurodevelopmental disorders cause disruption in systems associated with uniquely human features of cognition, including language and social cognition. Understanding the genetic and developmental mechanisms that underlie variation in the human cognitive phenotype can help to clarify the functional significance of interspecific variation. By uniting approaches from comparative neuroanatomy and neuropathology, insights can be gained that clarify trends in human evolution. Here, we explore these lines of evidence and their significance for understanding functional variation between species as well as within neuropathological variation in the human brain.