Hominin-specific regulatory elements selectively emerged in oligodendrocytes and are disrupted in autism patients

Bas Castelijns, Mirna L Baak, Ilia S Timpanaro, Caroline R M Wiggers, Marit W Vermunt, Peng Shang, Ivanela Kondova, Geert Geeven, Valerio Bianchi, Wouter de Laat, Niels Geijsen, Menno P Creyghton

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Speciation is associated with substantial rewiring of the regulatory circuitry underlying the expression of genes. Determining which changes are relevant and underlie the emergence of the human brain or its unique susceptibility to neural disease has been challenging. Here we annotate changes to gene regulatory elements (GREs) at cell type resolution in the brains of multiple primate species spanning most of primate evolution. We identify a unique set of regulatory elements that emerged in hominins prior to the separation of humans and chimpanzees. We demonstrate that these hominin gains perferentially affect oligodendrocyte function postnatally and are preferentially affected in the brains of autism patients. This preference is also observed for human-specific GREs suggesting this system is under continued selective pressure. Our data provide a roadmap of regulatory rewiring across primate evolution providing insight into the genomic changes that underlie the emergence of the brain and its susceptibility to neural disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2020


  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder/genetics
  • Brain/metabolism
  • Callithrix
  • Chromatin
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Chromosomes/chemistry
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genomics
  • Hominidae/genetics
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Oligodendroglia/metabolism
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid/physiology


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