BDNF, endurance activity, and mechanisms underlying the evolution of hominin brains

Tyler Hill, John David Polk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Objectives: As a complex, polygenic trait, brain size has likely been influenced by a range of direct and indirect selection pressures for both cognitive and non-cognitive functions and capabilities. It has been hypothesized that hominin brain expansion was, in part, a correlated response to selection acting on aerobic capacity (Raichlen & Polk, 2013). According to this hypothesis, selection for aerobic capacity increased the activity of various signaling molecules, including those involved in brain growth. One key molecule is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that regulates neuronal development, survival, and plasticity in mammals. This review updates, partially tests, and expands Raichlen and Polk's (2013) hypothesis by evaluating evidence for BDNF as a mediator of brain size. Discussion: We contend that selection for endurance capabilities in a hot climate favored changes to muscle composition, mitochondrial dynamics and increased energy budget through pathways involving regulation of PGC-1α and MEF2 genes, both of which promote BDNF activity. In addition, the evolution of hairlessness and the skin's thermoregulatory response provide other molecular pathways that promote both BDNF activity and neurotransmitter synthesis. We discuss how these pathways contributed to the evolution of brain size and function in human evolution and propose avenues for future research. Our results support Raichlen and Polk's contention that selection for non-cognitive functions has direct mechanistic linkages to the evolution of brain size in hominins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-62
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Volume168
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Fingerprint

endurance
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
Hominidae
brain
Brain
Multifactorial Inheritance
Mitochondrial Dynamics
Climate Change
Budgets
Neurotransmitter Agents
Mammals
Pressure
Muscles
Skin
Survival
Growth
budget
climate change
Genes
Proteins

Keywords

  • BDNF
  • MEF2
  • PGC-1α
  • brain growth
  • exercise
  • neurotrophins
  • thermoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology

Cite this

BDNF, endurance activity, and mechanisms underlying the evolution of hominin brains. / Hill, Tyler; Polk, John David.

In: American journal of physical anthropology, Vol. 168, 01.2019, p. 47-62.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

@article{f2ed0bba9e5b4642af19d0b6c2b64050,
title = "BDNF, endurance activity, and mechanisms underlying the evolution of hominin brains",
abstract = "Objectives: As a complex, polygenic trait, brain size has likely been influenced by a range of direct and indirect selection pressures for both cognitive and non-cognitive functions and capabilities. It has been hypothesized that hominin brain expansion was, in part, a correlated response to selection acting on aerobic capacity (Raichlen & Polk, 2013). According to this hypothesis, selection for aerobic capacity increased the activity of various signaling molecules, including those involved in brain growth. One key molecule is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that regulates neuronal development, survival, and plasticity in mammals. This review updates, partially tests, and expands Raichlen and Polk's (2013) hypothesis by evaluating evidence for BDNF as a mediator of brain size. Discussion: We contend that selection for endurance capabilities in a hot climate favored changes to muscle composition, mitochondrial dynamics and increased energy budget through pathways involving regulation of PGC-1α and MEF2 genes, both of which promote BDNF activity. In addition, the evolution of hairlessness and the skin's thermoregulatory response provide other molecular pathways that promote both BDNF activity and neurotransmitter synthesis. We discuss how these pathways contributed to the evolution of brain size and function in human evolution and propose avenues for future research. Our results support Raichlen and Polk's contention that selection for non-cognitive functions has direct mechanistic linkages to the evolution of brain size in hominins.",
keywords = "BDNF, MEF2, PGC-1α, brain growth, exercise, neurotrophins, thermoregulation",
author = "Tyler Hill and Polk, {John David}",
year = "2019",
month = "1",
doi = "10.1002/ajpa.23762",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "168",
pages = "47--62",
journal = "American Journal of Physical Anthropology",
issn = "0002-9483",
publisher = "Wiley-Liss Inc.",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - BDNF, endurance activity, and mechanisms underlying the evolution of hominin brains

AU - Hill, Tyler

AU - Polk, John David

PY - 2019/1

Y1 - 2019/1

N2 - Objectives: As a complex, polygenic trait, brain size has likely been influenced by a range of direct and indirect selection pressures for both cognitive and non-cognitive functions and capabilities. It has been hypothesized that hominin brain expansion was, in part, a correlated response to selection acting on aerobic capacity (Raichlen & Polk, 2013). According to this hypothesis, selection for aerobic capacity increased the activity of various signaling molecules, including those involved in brain growth. One key molecule is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that regulates neuronal development, survival, and plasticity in mammals. This review updates, partially tests, and expands Raichlen and Polk's (2013) hypothesis by evaluating evidence for BDNF as a mediator of brain size. Discussion: We contend that selection for endurance capabilities in a hot climate favored changes to muscle composition, mitochondrial dynamics and increased energy budget through pathways involving regulation of PGC-1α and MEF2 genes, both of which promote BDNF activity. In addition, the evolution of hairlessness and the skin's thermoregulatory response provide other molecular pathways that promote both BDNF activity and neurotransmitter synthesis. We discuss how these pathways contributed to the evolution of brain size and function in human evolution and propose avenues for future research. Our results support Raichlen and Polk's contention that selection for non-cognitive functions has direct mechanistic linkages to the evolution of brain size in hominins.

AB - Objectives: As a complex, polygenic trait, brain size has likely been influenced by a range of direct and indirect selection pressures for both cognitive and non-cognitive functions and capabilities. It has been hypothesized that hominin brain expansion was, in part, a correlated response to selection acting on aerobic capacity (Raichlen & Polk, 2013). According to this hypothesis, selection for aerobic capacity increased the activity of various signaling molecules, including those involved in brain growth. One key molecule is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that regulates neuronal development, survival, and plasticity in mammals. This review updates, partially tests, and expands Raichlen and Polk's (2013) hypothesis by evaluating evidence for BDNF as a mediator of brain size. Discussion: We contend that selection for endurance capabilities in a hot climate favored changes to muscle composition, mitochondrial dynamics and increased energy budget through pathways involving regulation of PGC-1α and MEF2 genes, both of which promote BDNF activity. In addition, the evolution of hairlessness and the skin's thermoregulatory response provide other molecular pathways that promote both BDNF activity and neurotransmitter synthesis. We discuss how these pathways contributed to the evolution of brain size and function in human evolution and propose avenues for future research. Our results support Raichlen and Polk's contention that selection for non-cognitive functions has direct mechanistic linkages to the evolution of brain size in hominins.

KW - BDNF

KW - MEF2

KW - PGC-1α

KW - brain growth

KW - exercise

KW - neurotrophins

KW - thermoregulation

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85059033817&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=85059033817&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1002/ajpa.23762

DO - 10.1002/ajpa.23762

M3 - Review article

C2 - 30575024

AN - SCOPUS:85059033817

VL - 168

SP - 47

EP - 62

JO - American Journal of Physical Anthropology

JF - American Journal of Physical Anthropology

SN - 0002-9483

ER -