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Cross-species Functional Alignment Reveals Evolutionary Hierarchy Within the Connectome

By Ting Xu, Karl-Heinz Nenning, Ernst Schwartz, Seok-Jun Hong, Joshua T. Vogelstein, Damien A. Fair, Charles E. Schroeder, Daniel S Margulies, Jonny Smallwood, Michael P. Milham, Georg Langs

Posted 04 Jul 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/692616

Evolution provides an important window into how cortical organization shapes function and vice versa. The complex mosaic of changes in brain morphology and functional organization that have shaped the mammalian cortex during evolution, complicates attempts to chart cortical differences across species. It limits our ability to fully appreciate how evolution has shaped our brain, especially in systems associated with unique human cognitive capabilities that lack anatomical homologues in other species. Here, we demonstrate a function-based method for cross-species cortical alignment that leverages recent advances in understanding cortical organization and that enables the quantification of homologous regions across species, even when their location is decoupled from anatomical landmarks. Critically, our method establishes that cross-species similarity in cortical organization decreases with geodesic distance from unimodal systems, and culminates in the most pronounced changes in posterior regions of the default network (angular gyrus, posterior cingulate and middle temporal cortices). Our findings suggest that the establishment of the default network, as the apex of a cognitive hierarchy, as is seen in humans, is a relatively recent evolutionary adaptation. They also highlight functional changes in regions such as the posterior cingulate cortex and angular gyrus as key influences on uniquely human features of cognition.

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