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Forebrain Evolution Research laboratory

CLoNe labelling of chick forebrain progenitors
CLoNe labelling of chick forebrain progenitors

The embryonic brain looks very similar across distant vertebrate species. How adult brain structural and functional divergence evolved? What is the evolutionary origin of the mammalian neocortex?

We apply Evo-Devo techniques in order to understand what developmental changes were translated into brain evolutionary trends.

In the lab we investigate the evolutionary origins of the mammalian neocortex by means of a detailed comparison of the embryonic development of several key vertebrate species. Only by knowing how our brain appeared and evolved will we be able to explore the function of the human brain and contemplate its diseases and their treatments.

Developmental biology provides powerful tools to study evolutionary change because evolution is the evolution of development. It is during embryonic development when genetic changes are translated to eventual variation in the adult function. At the embryonic onset of neurogenesis the telencephalon looks uniform with basic organization that is common in all studied tetrapod species. It was during the subsequent stages of development when divergent telencephalic developmental mechanisms evolved.

We wish to identify developmental processes that enabled the mammalian telencephalon to reorganise its dorsal pallial compartment in a unique fashion. By exploiting state-of-the-art methods of selective stem cell labelling to perform clonal analysis we compare embryonic telencephalic development in three selected species: turtle, mouse and chicken. Our working hypotheses are that (1) mammalian neocortex origin was based on the appearance of new progenitors in the dorsal pallium; (2) dorsal neural stem cells proliferate faster in mammals while ventral progenitors play a similar role in sauropsids; and (3) intricate routes of migratory neurons contribute to the vast network complexity of the mammalian neocortex in a different way as they contribute in the sauropsid embryonic brain.

Our comprehensive study of the developmental paths that shape brains will extend our knowledge on the changes that generated the unique mammalian neocortex.

Selected publications

Related research themes