Oligodendrocytes during human brain evolution and their association with neuropsychiatric disorders

Oligodendrocytes during human brain evolution and their association with neuropsychiatric disorders


Studies of human brain evolution have largely focused on changes in the number and functions of neurons. As a result, the contribution of nonneuronal brain cell types to human brain evolution has not been clear, even though the cells have been implicated in brain development, cognitive function, and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Researchers used RNA sequencing to compare whole-genome levels of gene expression in nuclei from different cell types in the prefrontal cortex of humans, chimpanzees, and rhesus macaques.

Compared with neurons, nonneuronal cells called oligodendrocytes showed greater changes in gene expression in the human lineage relative to the chimpanzee lineage. The findings suggest that gene expression in oligodendrocytes has undergone more rapid evolution than in neurons within the human lineage.

In addition, genes showing human-specific expression in oligodendrocytes are associated with neuropsychiatric diseases such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and schizophrenia.

Moreover, analysis of whole-transcriptome data from oligodendrocytes in the prefrontal cortex of 23 patients with schizophrenia and healthy donors revealed that genes dysregulated in schizophrenia overlap with genes showing human-specific expression.

According to the authors, the findings suggest that oligodendrocytes may have played an important role in the evolution of the human brain and cognitive diseases.

https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/11/08/1907982116

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