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We analyze the metabolomes of humans, chimpanzees and macaques in muscle, kidney and three different regions of the brain. Whereas several compounds in amino acid metabolism occur at either higher or lower concentrations in humans than in the other primates, metabolites in oxidative phosphorylation and purine biosynthesis are consistently present in lower concentrations in the brains of humans. In particular, metabolites downstream of adenylosuccinate lyase, which catalyzes two reactions in purine synthesis, occur at lower concentrations in humans. This enzyme carries an amino acid substitution that is present in all humans today but absent in Neandertals. By introducing the modern human substitution into the genomes of mice, as well as the ancestral, Neandertal-like substitution into the genomes of human cells, we show that this amino acid substitution is responsible for much or all of the reduction of de novo synthesis of purines in humans. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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