The cerebellum, a structure of the central nervous system that controls complex motor functions, has contributed decisively to our culture, language, and use of tools. It has greater epigenetic differences than the cortex, which is where perception, imagination, thought, judgment and decision develop. A paradox that scientists at Duke University have discovered after comparing the human brain with that of different primates.
If we talk about the dizzying evolution that has allowed human beings to reach the degree of cultural and technological development that they currently have and we link it directly with their brain, we must necessarily talk about the neocortex, which concentrates the most evolved areas of the cerebral cortex.
Until today, the reason why the human being was strongly differentiated from other primates resided almost exclusively there, for example thanks to culture, language or abstract thought.
However, American researchers have posed a paradox that would partly change this equation. According to a Press release, found that the cerebellum underwent evolutionary changes that may have contributed significantly to human culture, language, and tool use.
In the study, neuroscientists made different comparisons between the human brain and that of different primates. They found that humans showed greater epigenetic differences in the cerebellum than in the prefrontal cortex, an aspect that would change the role of the cerebellum in human evolution.
Traditionally, this region of the brain has not been considered among the most important in terms of the evolution of the species.
When speaking of epigenetic differences, reference is made to variations in the expressions of genes that do not alter the DNA sequence. They are changes that are inherited between generations, but that do not modify the genetic code: they allow the development of new functions and abilities, partly thanks to the influence of the environment.
According to the new study, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, the cerebellum would play a central role in coordinating these new epigenetic abilities.
Previous studies have indicated that the cerebellum would play a prominent role in aspects related to imagination, creativity and problem solvingcerebellum, showing that it is much more than the focal point of the movement.
So what the new study raises does not seem unreasonable, if we take into account that issues such as culture or language are strongly influenced by the environment and the environment. Epigenetics is precisely shaped by these external issues.
In other words, everything that is located «above the genes», if we follow the etymological root of the term, has a direct impact on epigenetic variations.
Related topic: The cerebellum is heavily involved in decision making.Related topic: The cerebellum is heavily involved in decision making.
Impact of the cerebellum on learning
Apparently, throughout human evolution, a greater number of changes related to gene expression and the genes that remain active have occurred in the cerebellum than in the cortex. This makes a big difference with the rest of the primates, in which the cerebellum does not have this significant role.
Comparisons and studies carried out by researchers allow us to conclude that human brain evolution is not exclusively concentrated in the cortex. Other areas such as the cerebellum have also played a major role.
For example, part of the epigenetic variations found in the cerebellum are directly related to neural connections, which are essential in the learning process.
Comparative analysis reveals distinctive epigenetic features of the human cerebellum. Guevara EE, Hopkins WD, Hof PR, Ely JJ, Bradley BJ, Sherwood CC. PLoS Genetics (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1009506
Photo: Raman Oza on Pixabay.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.