Approximately 40,000 years ago, early homo sapiens in Europe interbred with Neanderthals. Remarkably, Neanderthal DNA remains present in humans today, and has influenced co-localized cranial and brain morphology, according to a recent study published in Nature.
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health examined MRI brain scans of 221 people of European descent. They conducted a genotype analysis on DNA extracted from lymphoblast cell lines on each participant. Through the use of MRI, they found that the IPS and primary visual cortex were anatomically related to Neanderthal neurobiology.
“To the extent that characterization of Neanderthal variation in present-day people can provide insights into archaic human phenotypes, this work can form the basis of future studies aimed at a more thorough understanding of Neanderthal biology,” write the researchers. “By the same token, we suggest that Neanderthal gene flow into modern humans is not only of evolutionary interest, but may also be functional in the living H. sapiens brain, revealing novel genetic influences on neurodevelopment of the visuospatial system upon which a fuller account of molecular mechanisms of IPS-driven normative mental functions, such as visuospatial integration and tool manipulation, can be built. This, in turn, may inform models of IPS-associated cognitive disability as seen in select developmental and neurological disorders.”