Evolution of central neural circuits: state of the art and perspectives


The wide variety of animal behaviours that can be observed today arose through the evolution of their underlying neural circuits. Advances in understanding the mechanisms through which neural circuits change over evolutionary timescales have lagged behind our knowledge of circuit function and development. This is particularly true for central neural circuits, which are experimentally less accessible than peripheral circuit elements. However, recent technological developments - including cross-species genetic modifications, connectomics and transcriptomics - have facilitated comparative neuroscience studies with a mechanistic outlook. These advances enable knowledge from two classically separate disciplines - neuroscience and evolutionary biology - to merge, accelerating our understanding of the principles of neural circuit evolution. Here we synthesize progress on this topic, focusing on three aspects of neural circuits that change over evolutionary time: synaptic connectivity, neuromodulation and neurons. By drawing examples from a wide variety of animal phyla, we reveal emerging principles of neural circuit evolution.

Journal details

Volume 23
Issue number 12
Pages 725-743
Available online
Publication date