Evolution of the Brain, the Neuron, Nerve Net, Limbic System, Brainstem, Midbrain, Diencephalon, Striatum, Telencephalon: Genetics, Calcium, Oxygen, and Cyanobacteria

Evolution of the Brain, the Neuron, Nerve Net, Limbic System, Brainstem, Midbrain, Diencephalon, Striatum, Telencephalon: Genetics, Calcium, Oxygen, and Cyanobacteria
Rhawn Gabriel Joseph, Ph.D.

The genes necessary for the evolution of the brain can be traced backwards in time to the first life forms to take root on this planet; the first evidence of which--the fractionating and synthesizing of carbon--appears throughout the periods of heavy bombardment in which Earth was pummeled by asteroids, comets, and extraterrestrial debris--a period that lasted until 4.6 billion to 3.8 billion years (BY). For example, microfossils resembling yeast cells and fungi, have been discovered in 3.8 BY old quartz, recovered from Isua, S. W. Greenland (Pflug 1978). Carbon-isotope evidence for life has also been found in Quartz-pyroxene rocks on Akilia, West Greenland dated to 3.8 BY (Manning et al. 2006; Mojzsis et al. 1996). Some of this evidence was discovered within a phosphate mineral, apatite, which included tiny grains of calcium and high levels of organic carbon; the residue of photosynthesis, oxygen secretion, and thus biological activity. That some of these creatures were capable of photosynthesizing activity is indicated by the high carbon contents of the protolith shale, and the ratio of carbon isotopes in graphite from metamorphosed sediments dating to the same period (Rosing, 1999, Rosing and Frei, 2004). Moreover, banded iron formations have been discovered in northern Quebec, Canada, consisting of alternating magnetite and quartz dated to 4.28 BY, and which is associated with biological activity (O'Neil et al. 2008). In addition, microprobe analyses of the carbon isotope composition of metasediments in Western Australia formed 4.2 BY revealed very high concentrations of carbon 12, or "light carbon" which is typically associated with microbial life (Nemchin et al. 2008).

By 3.46 billion years ago blue green algae--creatures resembling modern day cyanobacteria--had begun to to overrun the planet. These anaerobes were perfectly adapted for life on a world continually bathed in ultra-violent radiation and lacking free-oxygen. These microbes secreted and coated themselves with a glue-like gelatinous substance which protected them from ultraviolet rays. In fact, By 3.46 billion years B.P., gel-secreting, photosynthesizing cyanobacterial communities were secreting calcium and constructing stomatolites ("stone mattresses"), upon the surface layers of shallow seas. These layered structures have been discovered on every continent within sedimentary limestone; hence they either emerged multi-regionally or rapidly dispersed throughout the world. Moreover, microfossils have been discovered in association with the oldest of these stromatolites, dated to 3.5 billion years B.P., in Western Australia.

It is these calcium and oxygen secreting, photosynthesizing cyanobacteria, which would provide the genes, oxygen, and calcium that triggered the evolution and metamorphosis of the skeletal system and the brain.

As is apparent from the fossil evidence, the cellular contents of these creatures, including their DNA, was protected by a semi-permeable membrane which allowed them to maintain their own internal atmosphere of fluids and essential elements. This porous membrane also enabled these organisms to discharge waste products and to secrete mineral digesting enzymes and mineral creating enzymes, as well as absorb chemical nutrients arising in the external environment (e.g., chemoautotrophs). Moreover, these organisms were able to secrete or detect material released by other single celled creatures (e.g., heterotrophs), such that, at a very rudimentary level, these cells were able to sense, acquire, store, activate, and exchange information in a meaningful fashion.

These initial Earthlings were therefore capable of complex behaviors including photosynthesis, and oxygen and calcium secretion--substances which upon reaching high levels would act on gene selection and trigger the metamorphosis and evolution of eyes, bones, and brains (Joseph 2009) and an explosion of complex life, billions of year later, around 540 million years ago, during a period known as the Cambrian Explosion.

Until around 600 mya, most species consisted of fewer than 11 distinct cell types; some of which were specialized for detecting sunlight and engaging in photosynthesis--the precursors to the evolution of vision, the midbrain, and the eye. Yet others were sensitive to the chemical environment and could digest various minerals--precursors to the evolution of the olfactory system and the brainstem. However, whereas the neuroanatomical foundations for the brain had been established 540 mya, true neurons may have first evolved 600 million years earlier, around 1.2 bya.

As is evident from an examination of 3.5 billion year old stromatolites, single celled creatures were able to communicate and engage in cooperative efforts so as to act collectively. Presumably this initial means of singled celled cooperative communication took place via chemical secretions and electrical discharges and alterations in membrane polarity and electric currents. For example, it is well known that the surface membrane of a living cell is maintained by electrical forces and the interactions between macro-molecules. and that positively charged areas on one molecule are attracted to the negatively charged surface of a different molecule. Moreover, alterations in membrane polarization result in alterations in excitability which are translated into different membrane currents and discharge patterns. Hence, via alterations in these electrical-magnetic forces, molecular cellular structures are able to approach, position themselves, interact and even exchange material and then separate.

That these ancient DNA-equipped creatures were able to function and communicate in this manner, especially via electrical impulses, is also suggested by the nature of DNA which is able to conduct electrical current. Specifically, it has been demonstrated that "the resistivity values derived... are comparable to those of conducting polymers, and indicate that DNA transports electrical current as efficiently as a good semiconductor. DNA is ideally suited for the construction of mesoscopic electronic devices" (Fink & Schonenberger, 1999, p. 407).

In that the most primitive means of true nerve cell communication also occurs via electrical and electro-chemical interactions, whereas true neuronal actions and neuronal circuit activity are also determined by membrane currents, it is therefore quite likely that these early single celled communicative and cooperative efforts were the harbingers of advances in communication yet to come; i.e. the evolution of the neuron. around 1.3 billion years ago for it was during this time period that the multi-cellular ancestors for invertebrates had become established (Wary et al., 1996). These included long sinuous worms which were burrowing beneath the wet sands and in the shallow seas (Seilacher, et al. 1998). These creatures likely possessed primitive sensory-motor neurons which induced coordinated movement for the burrows of these worms show obvious signs of branching which indicate purposeful searching movements (Seilacher, et al. 1998). Presumably these sensory-motor cells were externally located outside the body, and were especially responsive to light and chemical and pheromonal messages which when activated would induce searching movements. Hence, it is possible that these particular worms may have evolved a very primitive nerve net over a billion years ago.

Evolution of the Nerve Net

Nevertheless, it would take a massive buildup of oxygen and calcium in the oceans of Earth before complex creatures with bones and brains could evolve; an event which coincides with the Cambrian explosion of life with all manner of complex creatures appearing in every river, ocean, and stream in a period of less than 10 million years. These included organisms with a hard tube-like outer-skeleton consisting of calcium carbonate, and all manner of "small shelly fish" (Anabrites, Protohertzina), as well as sponges and jelly fish, and later, mollusks, brachipods, and the first anthropods (e.g. trilobites) which immediately sprouted legs. In fact, with no history of derivative ancestral forms, and over the course of just a few million years, all manner of complex life forms emerged, and many species were equipped with gills, intestines, joints, and modern eyes with retinas and fully modern optic lenses. In fact, every phylum in existence today (including several which have since become extinct), emerged during the Cambrian Explosion, including the phylum Chordata.

However, not every phylum emerged simultaneously. Rather, the Cambrian Explosion was rather prolonged, with simple creatures "evolving" in advance of those which were physically, biologically, structurally, and neurologically more complex. For example, at the onset of the Cambrian explosion some organisms appear to have been equipped with nervous-like tissue e.g., sponges, jelly fish, sea anemones, whereas others may have possessed neurons strung together in the form of a nerve net, i.e., hydrozoa.

For example, sponges (which are a step below coelenterates; e.g., jelly fish, sea anemones, and Hydrozoa), although without true neurons (Ariens Kappers, 1929; Bishop, 1956; Burnett & Diehl, 1966, Emson, 1966; Lentz, 1968; Papez 1967; Jacobson 1963), contain a very primitive organization of nervous-like tissue. This includes generalized sensory cells, the bulk of which are concentrated within and around their external orifices and pore sphincters through which sea water freely circulates. They also contain very generalized motor cells which is why young sponges are capable of amoeboid movements. It is these sensory and motor cells which presumably enable adult sponges to (very slowly) react to stimulation.

Sponges are also capable of a very slow protoplasmic form of information transmission which is made possible via microtubular neural activity. In addition to microtubules, sponges contain a number of neorotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine and acetylcholinesterase (Lentz 1968). These chemical transmitters are found in high concentrations within the human brain and are involved in memory, emotion, and movement. Hence, the nervous system of the sponge employs these neurotransmitters and displays a primitive type of neural transmission from which true nervous conduction may have evolved.

However, the genes coding for nerves, neurons, and brains, did not randomly evolve. They were inherited from ancestral species, such as Trichoplax, whose genomes possessed the necessary (albeit "silent") DNA, but who in all respects were heartless, boneless and brainless.


A number of investigators have provided evidence of biological activity, and thus life on Earth, between 3.8 to 4.2 billion years ago. Those life forms included cyanobacteria who secrete oxygen as a waste product and calcium which was employed as a "biological glue" to cement together cyanobacteria mats also known as stromatolites. Over the course of the next 3 billion years, the buildup of calcium and oxygen acted on gene selection, including genes horizontally transferred from cyanobacteria into the eukaryotic genome; and in consequence, oxygen-breathing creatures with bones, brains, and eyes, began to evolve as these later biological structures and organs required calcium.

Until around 700 million years ago, most Earthly creatures consisted of less than 11 different cell types. However, beginning around 640 mya, the planet experienced yet another global ice age, the "Marinoan" (Bowring et al., 2013; Condon et al., 2015; Kaufman et al., 1997; Hoffmann et al., 1998, 2004; Hyde et al., 2000). Alterations in temperature act on gene selection, and a number of distinct species appeared in an an evolutionary burst, including the Ediacaran fauna (Narbonne and Gehling 2003) who may have been as much plant as animal. They were accompanied by species collectively referred to as "Echinodermata-Arkarua adami" (Gehling 2007) and the heartless, brainless Placozoa Trichoplax whose genome possessed the silent genes necessary for fashioning a heart and brain (Srivastava, et al., 2008). It is these tissue-generating silent genes which would be passed down to subsequent species who later evolved bones, brains and a blood-pumping heart around 550 mya.

Placozoans Trichoplax adhaerens is an amoeba-shaped, multi-cellular animal that belong to the Trichoplax family, and may represent a primitive metazoan. Trichoplax fossils, dated to 635 million years ago, have been found in an oil field on the Arabian Peninsula (Srivastava, et al., 2008).

Trichoplax Placozoan

Trichoplax is a "living fossil" and the body plan of Placozoans involves a mere four cell types. They do not have muscle cells and do not posses a heart, cardiac tissue, or blood. And yet, Placozoans possess the necessary genes and numerous transcription factors including multiple basic helix–loop–helix family genes and GATA-family zinc-finger transcription factors associated with the complex regulation of cell patterning and differentiation, and the specification of muscle, as well as those coding for endodermal, cardiac and blood cells (Srivastava, et al., 2008), even though they have no heart, muscles, or blood.

Their genome also contains four putative opsin genes, which code for light reception, as well as PAX genes which code for the visual system (Srivastava, et al., 2008). And yet Trichoplax is blind, they have no eyes, and their genome does not encode the basic machinery required for photoreception.

The Trichoplax genome also contains genes which encode a rich array of transcription and signalling factors, including many subfamilies of the animal-specific Sox Sry-related HMG-box family involved in cell division, mitosis, and in the regulation of embryonic development (Srivastava, et al., 2008) even though they do not produce embryos. They also possess genes for sexual reproduction and germ cells for embryological development, even though they do not have sex, and do not generate offspring. Trichoplax reproduces by fission, whereby two (sometimes three) parts of the animal move away from each other until their connection is ruptured.

In fact, the first evidence for cell division and embryonic cell lineage differentiation, and the first embryos do not appear in the fossil record until between 580 mya 550 mya (Condon et al., 2005; Hagadorn et al., 2006), almost 60 million years after this species evolved. These first embryos include planula larvae and hydrozoan embryos and resemble gastrula stage embryos of bilaterian/metazoan forms (Chen et al., 2000).

Although they lack any semblance of nervous tissue, the Trichoplax genome contains a rich repertoire of transcription factors that regulate cell type specification and cell differentiation. These include multiple LIM-homeobox genes typically associated with the specification in neurons, and multiple basic helix–loop–helix family genes associated with neural cell fates, neural signalling, the establishment of the synapse and post-synaptic formation proteins (Srivastava, et al., 2008). The synapse and these channels are essential in nerve cell communication and enable neurons to communicate and to transmit messages to one another and to the brain. Their genome also contains genes associated with neural migration and axon guidance, and thus the genes which guide the development of the brain.

Again, however, Trichoplax is brainless. There is no evidence of nerves, sensory cells, neurons, synapses, or anything remotely suggestive of a brain or nervous system in this species which first appeared on the Earth around 635 million years ago; one hundred million years before the brain evolved. Further, they lack of any kind of symmetry, sexuality, organs, muscle cells, basal lamina, heart, visual system, and yet possess all the genes necessary for creating these specific organs, tissues, body parts, including eyes and brains.

The Trichoplax genome, which is extremely compact, contains 11,514 protein coding genes and consists of 98 megabases, distributed over six chromosomes. The sequencing and analysis of the approximately 98 million base pair nuclear Placozoan genome has demonstrated conserved gene content, structure, synteny and linkage in relation to other ancient species, as well as the human genome and in fact has a significant concentration of orthologues on one or more human chromosomes (Srivastava et al., 2008). These shared genes include those involved in the development of the nervous system, the heart, and a wide variety of cell types. In fact, the same genes inherited by Trichoplax were later inherited by and activated in the human genome, even though the ancestors of both diverged from a common ancestor between 900 mya to over 1.2 bya (e.g., Wray et al., 1996; Peterson et al.., 2004). Many of these linkages date back to the placozoan–vertebrate last common ancestor.

The evolution and metamorphosis of the brain and skeletal system, however, was not initiated until around 550 mya ago, when the global warming caused the oceans to be flooded with calcium at the onset of the Cambrian Explosion. Specifically, increases in oxygen (Canfield et al., 2007), silica, and calcium, coupled with increased synthesis of collagen, in turn triggered the evolution of the silica-collagen skeletal system which was followed by the evolution of the calcium-collagen skeleton and then the evolution of metazoans with a brain and nervous system which was encased in and protected by a hard inner shell of bony-structures.


The evolution of the skeletal system was an epochal event in the metamorphosis of metazoans and the lineage known as animalia. The skeletal system provided a mechanical support for an outer layer of cells that covered and enclosed the body, and protected interior organs from environmental challenges and provided a stable enclosure which could support the evolution of large organs and internal structures, allowing these tissues and the body to grow and diversify.

This was made possibly not just by the buildup of silica and calcium, but by an array of genes and cell adhesion and extracellular matrix protein domains, which made possible multicellular fusion and three dimensional organization (King et al., 2007).


Adhesion proteins lock individual cells together, and play a key role in multicellular development and the evolution of the skeletal system. Without adhesion, cells would drift apart and multi-cellularity would be an impossibility. Adhesion makes it possible for unicellular organisms to live in colonies and for organisms to become multi-cellular.

Choanoflagellates Colony

Choanoflagellates Colony

Likewise, the genome of Trichoplax, which evolved 635 mya (Schulze et al., 1883), contains many subfamilies of the animal-specific Sox Sry-related HMG-box family involved in cell division, mitosis, and in the regulation of embryonic development (Srivastava, et al., 2008). They also possess genes for sexual reproduction and germ cells for embryological development, even though they do not have sex, and do not generate offspring or embryos.

Therefore, like the genes for bones and brains, the genes responsible for cell adhesion and embryological development did not randomly evolve. They were inherited from the common ancestors of Trichoplax and choanoflagellates which diverged over a billion years ago from multicellular eukaryotes (Feng et al., 1997; Hedges 2002). The common ancestors for these multicellular eukaryotes inherited these silent genes from prokaryotes including cyanobacteria, a species directly responsible for the buildup of oxygen and calcium which acted on these silent genes thereby triggering the metamorphosis of bones, brains, hearts, and eyes



Calcium is the most ubiquitioius metal ion in the cellular system and plays a universal role as messenger and regulator of protein activities (Kazmierczak and Kempe 2004; Williams 2007). Calcium acts directly on gene expression (Castilho et al., 1995), and the regulation of programmed cell death (apoptosis), cellular proliferation and differentiation, and cell to cell adhesion and fusion (Brown and MacLeod 2001; Cheng et al., 2007). In the absence of CA cells stop aggregating, embroyos fail to adhere, cell aggregates and disintegrate, and bones become soft and easily break (Kazmierczak and Kempe 2004). Therefore, until sufficient quantities of calcium had been biologically produced and then liberated, embryos and bones were an impossibility.

Calcium carbonate crystals

Over the last 3 billion years calcium concentrations have increased by 100,000 times (Kempe and Degens, 1985) with the greatest increases occurring during and following the Marinoan/Gaskiers glaciation. The rapid increase in calcium levels triggered a whole spectrum of calcium binding and calcium-collagen proteins activities including the creation of the skeletal, muscular, and nervous system. Calcium binding proteins in fact regulate smooth muscle contraction and motion in skeletal muscle (Kazmierczak and Kempe 2004), and Cao2+ sensors are located in cartilage and bone cells that mediate some or even all of the known effects of Cao2+ on these cells (Brown and MacLeod 2001; Chang et al., 1999).

Hence, calcium plays a key role in the evolution and regulation of skeletal muscle movement and contraction, and thus the regulation of cell, muscle, and skeletal functioning in metazons (Kazmierczak and Kempe 2004). Once sufficient quantities had been produced, genes were activated and complex species with muscles, bones (and brains) evolved. Hence, the buildup of calcium played a central role in the creation of macro-multicellular eukaryotes which diversified and increased in size following the end of the Marinoan/Gaskiers glaciation.


Although volcanoes and hydrothermal vents contributed, for the first 4 million years after this planet became Earth, most of the calcium on this planet was produced biologically by cyanobacteria, and then later by photosynthesizing eukaryotes including corals and possibly Ediacarans.

Photosynthesizing Cyanobacteria were among the first to take root on this planet. They contributed to the eukaryotic gene pool, formed thick cyanobacteria mats, established symbiotic relations with eukaryotes (some of which became plants), and secreted not just oxygen, but calcium carbonate into the oceans and the seas (Alois 2008; Kazmierczak and Stal 2008).

Cyanobacteria Colony

Cyanobacteria Mat


Cyanobacteria secrete calcium carbonate within their mucous (Kazmierczak and Stal 2008). These secretions are used to glue and cement stramatolites together, and to create thick cyanobacterial mats, allowing vast colonies of cyanobacteria to adhere to one another (Alois 2008). The lithification of these marine cyanobacterial mats, to create rock-like sediments, is thought to be driven by metabolically-induced increases in calcium carbonate saturation (Alois 2008). The secretion of calcium carbonate to form cyanobacteria mats, also infilitrated carbonate rocks (Alois 2008) and accelerated the mineralogy of reef-building (Porter 2006). Vast stores of calcium began to build up in these mats, stromatolites, carbonate rocks and reefs. Thus, by 600 mya, vast ocean preserves of calcium carbonate had been established.

Proterozoic Stromatolites



Increased levels of calcium carbonate potentiates photosynthesis (Colombetti et al., 2008) in eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Increased photosynthesis increases the production and secretion of calcium carbonate (Alois 2008; Porter 2006) by eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Thus, a feedback mechanism is maintained where calcium carbonate potentiates photosynthesis which results in the release of more calcium carbonate as well as more oxygen.

This feedback system has been in effect since cyanobacteria took root on this planet and began using photosynthesis to obtain energy. Moreover, this feedback system also likely involved viral gene exchange during episodes of green house global warming or global freezing, despite reduced sunlight. Viruses act as store-houses for genes which code for photosynthesis (Lindell et al., 2004; Sullivan et al., 2005, 2006) and they transfer these genes to cynobacteria during periods of reduced light, and which augment photosynthetic activity (Sullivan et al., 2006). Thus, cyanobacteria photosynthetic activity and calcium carbonate bio-mat production persisted during the first, second, and third world-wide glacial periods (Grey et al., 2003, 2005; Moczydłowska 2008).

However, by the onset of the third "snow ball Earth" photosynthetic activity was augmented by cyanobacteria which had formed symbiotic relations with eukaryotes (Cavalier-Smith 1993), and various members of the Ediacarans biota (Seilacher et al. 2003). Specifically, because many species of eukaryote had grown in size due to the evolution of a silica skeleton, made possible by prokaryotic silica production, cyanobacteria were able to invade and form a symbiotic relationship with these species, contributing additional genes to the eukaryotic genome in the process. Thus the larger Ediacarans possibly employed photosynthetic symbionts, and engaged in photosynthesis. Likewise, giant protozoa which live a heterotrophic phagocytozing life style, may have also formed symbiotic relations with photosynthetic symbionts (Cavalier-Smith 1993). As calcium carbonate also produced as a byproduct of photosynthesis, calcium levels began to rapidly increase during the third "snow ball Earth."

Cyanobacteria also proliferated during and following the end of the Gaskiers glaciation. There is a large fossilized assemblage of cyanobacteria and phytoplankton dated to around 580 mya . These include benthic autotrophic and aerobic cyanobacteria which lived in functionally complex communities of mat-builders, as well as photosynthesizing planktic eukaryotes. Some of these species survived by colonizing surface ice. Other dwelled in pockets of sunlit, well-oxygenated open marine waters. However, yet others flourished in the absence of direct sunlight, and lived a Heterotrophic lifestyle (Kelly et al., 2007), praying upon other creatures, or living off organic matter.

Cyanobacteria Synechocystis

Therefore, even under global glacial conditions, cyanobacteria living upon the ice, those living beneath the surface of frozen seas, and those receiving only a limited amount of light, were able to engage in photosynthesis and calcium production. Yet other could engage in Heterotrophic activity, and produce oxygen or high levels of C resulting in large pools of C and then the oxidation of this C upon the release of molecular oxygen via enhanced Corg burial (Kelly et al., 2007). The ultimate result was the creation and buildup of massive amounts of calcium carbonate which had been biologically produced for a specific purpose which paralleled significantly increased oxygenation of the ocean and atmosphere and dramatic alterations in temperature. Following the end of the Marinoan/Gaskiers glaciation, and beginning around 580 mya, the earth began to significantly warm. The increase in temperatures triggered bacterial mat evaporation and cyanobacterial mucous decomposition. The seas became saturated with calcium carbonate.


This period of of post glacial warming was due to a significant buildup of atmospheric CO2 due to volcanogenic CO2 emissions (Cavalier-Smith, 2006), and an increase in methane levels due to to oxidation of methane released by methagenic archae, and from permafrost by deglaciation (Bao et al., 2012; Shields 2013). The atmosphere also became increasingly oxygenated which resulted in the oxidization of the large reservoir of organic carbon which had been building up in the oceans for nearly 4 billion years (Fike et al., 2006).

As the planet began to warm, and by 600 mya ago, the oceans were becoming increasingly saturated with calcium, creating "calcite seas" (Porter, 2006). However, even as early as 635 mya, a number of taxa were already displaying calcium carbonate mineralization. These included sponges who had first evolved a silica-collagen skeleton, which included calcium, thereby forming soft, lacelike silica skeletons, spicules, and spines which enabled them to enlarge their cell wall, and grow in size (Gehling and Rigby 1996; Li, et al., 1998; Tiwari et al., 2012; Xiao et al., 2009).

However, as the oceans became saturated with calcium carbonate, and as the Marinoan glacial period was coming to an end, sponges evolved a calcium based skeleton with the outerbody adorned with siliceous, monaxonal spicules (Li et al., 1998). Thus, the calcium-based skeleton evolved after the silica skeleton (Brasier et al., 1997) and following the global meltdown at the end of the Gaskiers glaciation. Porter (2006) in his analysis of ocean chemistry and skeletal mineralization concludes that increases in "Ca2+ played a direct role in influencing the nature of skeletons that evolved at this time."

Skeletons are comprised of a calcium-collagen matrix. Exogenous calcium levels can increase 10-fold the synthesis collagen (Bonen and Schmid 1991). Calcium also interacts with collagen to induce cell adhesions. Thus the buildup and liberation of vast quantities of calcium resulted in skeletal metamorphosis.

CA buildup in the sea led to two main eukaryotic lineages, one with cell walls rich in polysaccharides (which led to plants), the other containing collagen (metazoans). Thus, multceullarity required calcium and the synthesis of collagen, leading to biocalicifcation, and then plants and anmials were able to leave the ocean and migrate to land.


Sponges, the oldest known living animal group, have no neurons, no synapses, no internal organs and consist of only a limited number of discrete cell types. Sponges are regarded as animals without true tissues and therefore may represent the earliest stage in the evolution of animal multicellularity (Boero et al., 2007).

Silicarea sponges evolved following the Sturtian glaciation (Gehling and Rigby 1996; Li, et al., 1998; Tiwari et al., 2000; Xiao et al., 2000) when the seas were enriched with silica. The "Sturtian" may have lasted until 670 mya (Fanning and Link 2004)

Calcareous sponges evolved during and after the Marinoan glacial period, which ended 580 mya. These were purse, vase, pear or cylinder-shaped and had evolved a honey-combed skeletal system made up of of calcium carbonate, with the outerbody adorned with siliceous, monaxonal spicules (Li et al., 1998). Therefore, the calcium-based skeleton evolved after the silica skeleton (Brasier et al., 1997).

PreCambrian and Cambrian calcareous Sponges

Likewise, Calcareous sponges evolved after the metamorphosis of Trichoplax (Placozoa) which evolved at around the same time as Silicarea sponges, i.e. 635 mya. However, like the sponge, Trichoplax does not have a brain or a skeletal or nervous system. Nevertheless, Placozoa (Srivastava et al., 2008) and the sponge (Sakarya et al., 2007) contains the necessary genes for creating a nervous system.

Based on a whole-genome phylogenetic analysis, Srivastava et al., (2008), argue that placozoans belong to a 'eumetazoan' clade that includes cnidarians and bilaterians, with sponges as the earliest diverging animals. Other have presented evidence indicating that calcareous sponges are also more closely related to the Eumetazoa (cnidarians, ctenophores, triploblasts) than other sponges (Cavalier Smith et al. 1996; Borchiellini et al. 2001; Peterson & Butterfield 2005; Tiwari et al., 2000), including sponges with siliceous skeletons, i.e. silicisponges: demosponges, and hexactinellids (Peterson and Butterfield, 2005).

Calcareous sponge evolved after Placozoa, and Placozoa are the simplest of living multicellular animals (Schierwater 2005). Placozoa posses only four somatic cell types, and lack any kind of extracellular matrix (Grell and Ruthmann 1991). Placozoans, therefore, are considered by many scientists to be "the earliest divergent metazoans in which the ancestral state of animal multicellularity is conserved;" though others believe that honor belongs to the sponge (reviewed by Boero et al., 2007).

Yet others proposed that cnidarians and ctenophores are the earliest diverging extant lineage (Collins et al. 2005).

What all three lineages have in common are the genes which code for brain tissue (Sakarya et al., 2007; Srivastava et al., 2008). However, unlike the later evolving cnidarians and ctenophores (Grimmelikhuijzen and Westfall 1995) both the sponge (Sakarya et al., 2007) and Trichoplax Placozoa (Srivastava et al., 2008) lack nerves, neurons, synpses, or any tissue resembling a nervous system or ganglionic brain.

The sponge and Placozoa are brainless although the genomes of both species contains the genes which code for nervous system structures, including the synapse (Sakarya et al., 2007; Srivastava et al., 2008). These genes were then passed down, in silent form, to later emerging species at which point they were expressed. In fact, Sakarya et al. (2007) upon examining the phylogenies for 36 gene families involved in the post-synaptic neural complex in the genomes of two basal metazoans, discovered a "large number of vertebrate post-synaptic gene homologs in the sponge" as well as in humans. The genome of Placozoa also maintain many of the same genes which in mammals code for the brain including the generation of the synapse (Srivastava et al., 2008).

The Synapse.

The synapse is a central feature of brain function and nerve cell conduction. The synapse serves as a link between two neurons, and makes possible signalling, and communication and enables neural cells to transmit information to other neurons. Therefore, information received in one area of the body can be transmitted to yet other areas. Synaptic communication is rapid and efficient, and enables the coordination of purposeful and reflexive body movement in response to the reception of sensory impressions. Animals can react instantly.

With the evolution of the skeletal system, the body greatly increased in size. Increasing body size required a network of nerves to coordinate body movement. Calcium, which triggered the genes and became the substance that made bones possible, is also linked to the evolution and functioning of the brain, including the synapse.

The synapse is the basic building block for the nerve cells, the nerve net, the nervous system, and the brain. The evolution of these structures was triggered by the same substance which was biologically produced, and which is responsible for the skeletal system. These were not random acts of chance. They were under biological control, with genes acting on the environment, which acts on gene selection, thereby coordinating the evolution of myriad species perfectly adapted for a world which has been prepared for them.

More than 1000 proteins and hundreds of genes are required for building the synaptic complex including the pre and post synaptic membranes and their channels and receptors. Sakarya et al. (2007) concluded that the last common ancestor to all living animals likely possessed most of these genes and proteins which code for these basic, fundamental components of neural signaling and brain functioning.

However, neither the sponge or Trichoplax evolved a synapse or a neuron, although both possessed the necessary genes.


Cnidarians inherited ancestral genes and homologues (Technau et al. 2005) which code for the fundamental features of bilaterality (Hayward et al. 2002; Finnerty 2003; Finnerty et al. 2004; Matus et al. 2006), and the nervous system (Miljkovic-Licina et al. 2004). These genes were activated in the Cnidarian genome. Although they lack a brain, cnidarians have a nervous system that consists of a network of nerve nets that include sensory and motor neurons, mechanoreceptors, photoreceptors and chemoreceptors all differentiating from a common stem cell line (Grimmelikhuijzen and Westfall 1995; Seipel and Schmid 2006; Willmer 1990), and which controlled by regulatory genes homologous to metazoans (Miljkovic-Licina et al. 2004). Thus, they possess sensory and motor neurons, which enable them to immediately respond to sensory signals and these same genes were inherited by other animals.

Evolution of the Nerve Net

Cnidarians may belong to a 'eumetazoan' clade that includes sponges and Trichoplax placozoans, with sponges as the earliest diverging animals (Srivastava et al., 2008). Cnidarians, (including cteno-phores, triploblasts) are more closely related to calcareous sponges than other sponges (Cavalier Smith et al. 1996; Borchiellini et al. 2001; Peterson & Butterfield 2005; Tiwari et al., 2000). Therefore, one source for these genes includes those sponges who reacted to increased calcium levels by building a calcium skeletal network. These genes, however, were inherited from yet other ancestral species.

The convergence of opinion is that Cnidaria (subphylum Medusozoa of the Cnidaria), calcareous sponges and Trichoplax Placozoa, are Eumetazoa and are directly related, and that Cnidaria evolved after the metamorphosis of Placozoa and the sponge. Thus, they may have inherited these genes from Trichoplax who in turn inherited these genes from ancestral species. This impression is also supported by the fossil record.

Cnidarians may represent stem-group eumetazoans (Xiao et al., 2000). Cnidarians include, corals, sea pens, sea anemones, jellyfish and Hydrozoa.

The first fossil evidence of Cnidaria appears during the latter part of the Edicaran age, after the seas had been enriched with calcium. This fossil assemblage from the period after 580 mya, includes Charnia which has been classified as a proto-cnidarian which resembles sea pens (Glaessner 1984; Gehling 1991); Cyclomedusa which is thought by some to resemble the sea anemone; frond-like organisms which resemble or have affinities witch sea pens or colonial soft octocorals (Briggs et al., 1994); and corals which built coral-bearing reefs in South Australia (Savarese et al., 1993). The Australian coral reef assemblage is diverse and includes calcareous sponges and two species of coral-like skeletonized colonial cnidarians which resemble tabulate corals (Savarese et al., 1993).

Therefore, whereas all calcareous sponges and Trichoplax possessed the genes which code for brain structures, only Cnidaria, which evolved after Placozoa and the sponge, evolved neurons, synapses, and a nervous system (Breidback O, Kutsch 1995; Grimmelikhuijzen and Westfall 1995). These Cnidarians were also the first to evolve calcium-carbonate skeletal structures that are common throughout all Metazoa (Boero et al., 2007).

Cnidarian Nervous Systems


Corals are Cnidarians and may be the first species to have evolved a skeleton and nervous system. The coevolution of the skeletal system and the nervous system in this species is mutually linked to the calcium produced initially by cyanobacteria and liberated during the warming period following the Gaskiers glaciation. Corals, however, also secrete calcium.

Corals are sessile long-living colonial organisms, typically found in tropical well-illuminated oceans, where they are the main contributors to the creation of reefs. Coralline skeletal material is composed of aragonite (Barnes and Chalker 1990; Vago et al., 2002) which consists of naturally occurring polymorphs of calcium carbonate. Their skeletons are also communal such that colonial corals are often linked to one another by shared skeletons. Thus corals trigger skeletal formation in other corals.

Corals (Cnidarians) secrete external skeletons made of calcium carbonate, and their calcium-carbonate skeletal system promotes the development of bones, nerve cells, neurons and astocytes in species other than corals, including humans (Devecioglu et al., 2004; Ohgushi 1997, Ohgushi et al., 1992; Peretz et al., 2007; Shany et al., 2003, 2005).

It has been repeatedly demonstrated (Ohgushi 1997, Ohgushi et al., 1992) that implanted disks of calcium carbonate derived from coral skeletons promoted de novo bone matrix formation, adhesion, proliferation, and differentiation (Abramovitch-Gottlib et al., 2006; Birk et al., 2006). Moreover, bone differentiation takes place without the addition of any bone-promoting factors to the growth medium.

Calcium is not only a major component of the skeletal system (Nudler et al., 2003; Urbano et al., 2002), but acts on a number of genes to build and maintain the integrity of the excitable membranes of heart, glandular, and muscle cells. Calcium secreted by corals also promote nerve cell development. Calcium also plays a central role in neural generation, the functioning of the synapse, the activation of DNA which codes for neural functional organization and expression, and thus the development and functional integrity of the brain (Glezer et al., 1999; Hong et al., 2000; Llinás et al., 2007; Köhler et al., 1996; Mori et al., 1991; Perez-Reyes 2003; Weisenhorn, D. M. (1999).

Therefore, when cyanobacterial mats decomposed after temperatures rose following the Gaskiers glaciation, massive amounts of calcium were liberated triggering the evolution of the skeleton and nerve tissue, which may have first appeared in corals. Corals the began secreting massive amounts of calcium into the ocean, thereby triggering gene expression in innumerable species which quite suddenly evolved skeletons and brains.

For example, biomatrix obtained from the exoskeleton of the coral P. lutea has been shown to promote the morphological development of neural tissue, including astrocytes, pyramidal and granule neurons, and tissues resembling hippocampal neurons (Peretz et al., 2007; Shany et al., 2003, 2005); the hippocampus being involved in memory. Rapid growth of nerve cell axons and dendrites are also triggered coupled with the development of pre and post synaptic membranes and synaptic connections with presynaptic sites.


Retina Neuron

Hence, the skeletal system of the calcium secreting corals (Cnidarians) not only builds bones but the tissues of the brain including the synapse. Therefore, corals which lived and evolved during the Ediacaran age, stimulated neural development, as well as skeletal and shell formation in later appearing species. Thus, one step leads to the next, and once calcium secreting corals evolved, complex and increasingly intelligent animals equipped with skeletons and brains followed.


There is no evidence suggestive of eyes, hearts, brains, or a nervous system in any species prior to 575 mya. Further prior to this period, there is no evidence for sensory-guided coordinated behaviors that might be mediated by a nervous system or visual-chemosensory system. The first evidence of complex bilaterian forms began to appear around 555 MYA (Martin et al., 2000), and it is only with bilaterality that a nervous system becomes a necessity so as to coordinate the movement of the bilateral body in response to sensory signals and environmental challenges. Since, evidence of horizontal burrowing does not appear until after 575 Mya, whereas vertical burrowing appears after 543 Mya (Erwin and Davidson 2002) and as there is no evidence of bilaterality from earlier time periods, it can be deduced that a simple nervous system did not evolve until after the end of the glacial period 580 mya. In fact, the first evidence of animals with a possible nervous system, Kimberella, does not appear in the fossil record until 555 MYA (Martin et al., 2000). Kimberella was bilateral and probably possessed as a visual-chemosensory system and a ring of neurons which were linked together into a thin nerve network, which would have made them capable of coordinated behaviors guided by the analysis of sensory and perceptual information.


Events surrounding the end of the Gaskiers glaciation appear to be the crucial key to the burst of evolution which led to the first bilateral forms as there is a complete absence of fossil evidence that can be related to a likely common ancestor for bilaterian in rocks older than 580 mya. Nor is there any evidence of intermediate forms which may provide evidence of a gradual Darwinian evolution. Rather, the evidence indicates that the silent genes coding for advanced sensory, neurological, and physical-skeletal traits were inherited from ancestral species, and only came to be activated after 580 mya when the environment had been enriched with silica, iron, oxygen and calcium all of which acted on gene selection. These biologically engineered changes in the biosphere thus activated genes coding for the calcium-collagen skeletal system, the muscular system, the sensory system, and the nervous system thereby initiating the next stage of evolutionary metamorphosis.

Thus, it took 4 billion years to genetically alter the biosphere, such that between 580 and 540 mya a complex variety of bilaterian forms began to appear (Bowring et al., 2003; Grotzinger et al., 1995; Martin et al., 2000), one of the first of which was a well-developed animal, Kimberella, whose fossils have been discovered in rocks located in northern Russia dated to around 555 MYA (Martin et al., 2000). Kimberella possessed as a visual-chemosensory system, and were capable of coordinated behaviors guided by the analysis of sensory and perceptual information.

Many of these chemicals, compounds, and elements were released and liberated continuously, and with others being released sequentially, almost one after the other, in a temporal order over long periods of time, paralleling increasing cellular complexity (Williams & Fraústo da Silva 2006). For example, Cyanobacteria, continuously secreted oxygen and calcium carbonate, and their contributions were supplemented by other photosynthesizing organisms. The buildup of calcium was supplemented by the buildup of silica and iron, and the synthesis of collagen. Yet other creatures, including corals began to secrete calcium during the Ediacaran period. Following the end of the Gaskiers glaciation, calacium-enriched mats and reefs created by cyanobacteria and corals began to evaporate flooding the oceans with calcium, which acted on gene selection, triggering metazoan metamorphosis and the evolution of diverse bilateral species with brains, bodies, and skeletal systems.

Chave et al (1972) estimates that for each hectare of reef surface exposed on the sea floor, up to 2,000 tones of calcium carbonate are produced yearly, producing 700 billion kg of carbon each year.

Silica, collagen, calcium-carbonate all act on gene expression, including those coding for the body, brain, and skeletal system. Ca2+ ions have a special affinity for genes which code for functions mediated by the central nervous system (Glezer et al., 1999; Hong et al., 2012; Llinas et al., 20`7; Kohler et al., 1996; Mori et al., 1991; Perez-Reyes 2003; Weisenhorn 1999; Ubach et al., 1998). Because ancient species passed on the necessary genes coding for the brain and nervous system, once calcium levels and other substances built up sufficiently these genes were activated in subsequent species, giving rise to the first shelled animals and those equipped with exoskeletons (e.g., the trilobites) and thus the Cambrian Explosion.

However, the genes coding for and responding to these ions and compounds existed prior to their expression. They did not randomly evolve. As summed up by Williams (2007) "Given that the changes of all these functional uses of metal ions occur almost simultaneously in time in all the three branches of multicellular organisms, it could hardly be that random mutation led to simultaneous appearance of these similar novelties in all of them. The common factor is the environment change."

The changing environments acted on gene selection and can trigger explosive bursts evolutionary innovation. Thus, by the onset of the Cambrian Explosion, 540 mya, numerous creatures began sporting shells whereas others would develop bones, bilateral bodies, and complex brains--a function of the massive amounts of oxygen, carbon, calcium, zinc, copper, and other liberated minerals and gasses acting on gene selection.

Although we can only speculate as to the neural organization of the burrowing worms from 1.3 billion years B.P., hydra are in possession of a "true" central nervous system including a well developed nerve net (Ariens Kappers, 1929; Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Papez, 1967; Romer, 1970). Hence, by the onset of the Cambrian Explosion it can be assumed that the nerve net had become well established in at least some species.

The establishment of the nerve net was a major evolutionary accomplishment. With these network of interlinked neurons a multicellular organism could behave as a complete unit, in a controlled, highly coordinated and directed manner as different regions of the body could now communicate together almost simultaneously.

Again, although a rudimentary "nerve net" may have "evolved" well over a billion years ago, it is evident that by 550 million years ago a complex network of neurons, that is a "nervous system" had been established; a development that may have coincided with the appearance of the planaria, hydra, and flat worms; i.e. the coelenterates.

Coelcenterates are the most primitive members of the animal kingdom to possess not just neurons, but a "nervous system," composed of distinct olfactory-chemical, photosensory, and sensory-motor neurons, including those which are unipolar, bipolar, and multipolar (Ariens Kappers, 1929; Papez, 1967; Lentz 1958). They also contain a third type of cell called a ganglion cell (or protoneuron). These nerve cells also possess true synapses which resemble those of the mammalian nervous system. For example, hydra (e.g., flatworms) are symmetrical and have an enlarged anterior region which correspond to its head, and are capable of twsting, bending, swaying, and waving their tentacles which respond to a variety of stimuli. The hydra's sensory cells are located along the body surface or upon its tentacles, and which send axonal processes to ganglion cells. When food comes into contact with the surface of the mouth, sensory cells are stimulated which act on motor cells and the mouth closes and the upper body contracts which forces the food into the body cavity. In many respects the hydra could almost be characterized as a floating stomach for once the food has been taken in, the creature twists and turns and contracts in various directions. Later it will undergo a violent contraction causing undigested material to be expelled through the mouth.

However, these creatures are without true brains. Rather, in addition to the nerve net they possess a dual pair of nerve cords which run lengthways within the body--the forerunner to the spinal cord and the phylum chordata. They also possess tiny neural ganglia located in the anterior head region. These nerve cords and ganglia in turn are connected to chemosensory neurons located externally in ciliated pits within the head area and along the body surface. Specifically, some nerve cords are connected to photosensitive retinal cells found within their cephalic eyes, and others to motor and tactual-sensory neurons located on the body surface.

If we accept the modern day hydra as a representative of those worms that emerged early in the Cambrian Explosion, and as a model for nervous system development, then it would appear that sensory neurons and their dendrites were originally situated within the outer epidermis, and that motor-effector neurons were first established within the contractile motor tissue. These somewhat separate origins also suggests that a chemical, photosensitive, and motor nervous system were semi-independently evolving. That is, the brainstem may have separately evolved from collections of sensory-motor cells, whereas the forebrain may have evolved from chemically-sensitive cells, whereas the midbrain and diencephalon may have evolved form photosensitive cells. However, these different brain areas were also exchanging information as well.

Over the course of evolutionary metamorphosis and the ensuing eons of time, these original externally located sensory and motor neurons began to migrate inward and to eventually collect together within the body so as to form collections of nuclei; i.e, neural ganglia (Ariens Kappers, 1929; Papez, 1967; Lentz 1958). Likewise, what had been a simple network of neurons located beneath the skin, became ganglionic and concentrated in the anterior "head region" of many organisms, such that separate masses of ganglions were now linked together. In consequence, as the Cambrian Explosion continued, creatures such as anthropods and chordates developed true brains.


"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive. slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down" (Darwin, 1857).

Until around 580 million years ago, the vast majority of life forms sojourning on Earth and beneath the seas, were single celled organisms and simple multi-celled creatures composed of less than 11 different cell types (Bottjer et al., 2006; Glaessner, et al. 2010; Narbonne 2005; Narbonne and Gehling 2003; Shen et al., 2008). Until sufficient oxygen, silica, and calcium had been released and the oceans had become oxygenated, body and cell size were restricted and unable to expand or engage in strenuous physical activity. Larger bodies require skeletal support. Internal organs require skeletal protection. Moreover, in the absence of ozone, larger sized bodies would be burnt by UV rays and would pop and explode.

Therefore, beginning around 640 mya, once silica, calcium, and oxygen levels had increased and a protective (oxygen-initiated) ozone layer was established, creatures expanded in size, diversified, and grew spines, silica skeletal compartments, then silica-collagen skeletons, collagen-calcium skeletons, armor plates (sclerites) and small shells like those of brachiopods and snail-like molluscs (Matthews and Missarzhevsky, 1975; Mooi and Bruno,1999; Butterfield 2003; Conway Morris 2003; Lin et al., 2006).

Perhaps several million years after what appears to have been a mass extinction of the Ediacaran fauna, there ensued an explosion of life with all manner of complex creatures appearing in every river, ocean, and stream. This vast explosion of bilateral metazoan diversity appeared multi-regionally throughout the oceans of the Earth within 5 my to 10 millions (Levinton, 1992; Kerr, 1993, 1995). Over 32 phyla rapidly evolved, many with the "modern" body plans seen in modern animals (Fortey et al., 1997; Valentine et al., 1999; Conway and Morris 2000; Budd and Jensen 2000; Peterson et al. 2005). These included organisms with a hard tube-like outer-skeleton consisting of calcium carbonate, and all manner of "small shelly fish" (Anabrites, Protohertzina), as well as sponges and jelly fish, and later, mollusks, brachipods, and the first anthropods (e.g. trilobites) which immediately sprouted legs. In fact, with no history of derivative ancestral forms, and over the course of just a few million years, all manner of complex life forms emerged, and many species were equipped with gills, intestines, joints, and modern eyes with retinas and fully modern optic lenses. In fact, every phylum in existence today (including several which have since become extinct), emerged during the Cambrian Explosion, including the phylum Chordata.

However, not every phylum emerged simultaneously. Rather, the Cambrian Explosion was rather prolonged, with simple creatures "evolving" in advance of those which were physically, biologically, structurally, and neurologically more complex. For example, at the onset of the Cambrian explosion some organisms appear to have been equipped with nervous-like tissue e.g., sponges, jelly fish, sea anemones, whereas others may have possessed neurons strung together in the form of a nerve net, i.e., hydrozoa.

Five-Eyed Opabin

Five-Eyed Opabin

Many of these creatures were very complex and bizarre in appearance (Cloud 1948; Whittington 1979) and immediately died out (Mooi and Bruno,1999). These included the five-eyed Opabinia. Some of these organisms were so unusual it has been assumed they must represent phyla that became extinct. However, other reserachers believe these bizarre forms are in fact among the stem groups of the extant phyla, (Smith 1984; Runnegar 1996; Budd & Jensen 2000). It has also been proposed that some of these creatures, or at least the necessary genes, may have arrived here from other planets encased in comets and asteroids, which struck the planet during this time (Joseph 2000).


Many of the species which evolved during the Cambrian Explosion possessed the basic anatomy common to all subsequent forms of sea life. This included completely modern eyes that quite suddenly evolved seemingly ex nihilo in the absence of intermediate forms. Trilobites, for example, which evolved quite suddenly in the absence of intermediate forms, "could see in their immediate environment with amazingly sophisticated optical devices in the form of large composite eyes" (Levi-Setti, 1995).

However, t he genes coding for the eyes and visual perception, such as the PAX genes, did not randomly evolve but were inherited from ancestral species who in turn obtained their genes from prokaryotes. Pax genes involved in eye development, known as "Pax-6" and opsin in vertebrates and "eyeless" in fruit flies, have been isolated from numerous species. Over 1000 genes involved in visual functioning, including Pax 6, are homologous between phyla (Quiring et al., 1994; Gehring and Ikeo, 1999; Tomarev et al. 1997). Between 70% to 80% of these visual genes are evolutionary conserved and common in the genomes of mammals, squid, octopus, flatworm, ribbonworm, ascidian, and nematode mosquitos, flies, tunicates, and vertebrate genomes including humans (Ogura et al., 2004). Moreover, of 1052 genes associated with the human eye, 1019 had already existed in the common ancestor of bilateria, (Ogura et al., 2004), which diverged anywhere from 1.3 bya to 830 mya (e.g., Wray et al., 1996; Peterson et al.., 2004, Nei et al., 2001; Gu 1998). In fact, the single most prerequisite for the development of vision, is the vitamin-A-related chromophores in the visual pigment, and this is also found in bacteria as well as algae and cyanobacteria (Seki and Vogt 1998; von Lintig, J., Vogt 2004).

These genes were passed down vertically and some were expressed in unicellular organisms, which developed "eyespots" and could therefore detect ambient brightness. With the evolution of multicellular metazoa, eyespots became eyecups, which led to the "pinhole camera" eye which are found in sea creatures such as nautilus.

PAX genes were inherited by Trichoplex Placozoa (Srivastava et al., 2008) and the descendants of Arkarua adami, such as Sea urchins (Sodergren et al., 2006, 2007) which are of the phylum Echinodermata. The fossil of the earliest known echinoderm, Arkarua adami, date to the Early preCambrian (Gehling 2007; Mooi, 2001). Arkarua had no mouth, there is no evidence for eyes, and its body had a five star radial symmetrical shape. Presumably they engaged in photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation. Thus, they evolved at the same time as Trichoplex.

Arkarua adami

In addition to sea urchins, other members of Echinodermata include sea stars, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, and crinoids many of which evolved during the Cambrian Explosion. These are all metazoans and thus of the kingdom Animalia which includes humans. They evolved in parallel to "lower metazoans" as represented by Trichoplex.

Sea urchins and humans belong to the kingdom Animalia and share genes directly related to the limbs, immune system, brain functioning and the visual, auditory, and olfactory system (Sodergren et al., 2006, 2007). Sea urchins and humans share more than 7,000 genes (Sodergren et al., 2006, 2007). Sea urchins share more genes with humans than fruit flies and worms (Sodergren et al., 2006, 2007). These include PAX genes directly involved in eye development.

Sea Urchin

However, sea urchins have no eyes, and lack an auditory and olfactory system (Sodergren et al., 2006, 2007). Instead, only a limited repertoire of photoreceptor genes are expressed in their tube feet (Burke et al., 2006). Like Tricoplax, they maintain an extensive repertoire of "silent" genes which code for functions which would not come to be expressed until the evolution of later species. In fact, the sea urchin, humans, as well as Trichoplax share numerous genes involved in sensory functioning including the Pax eye genes (Srivastava et al., 2008; Sodergren et al., 2006) even though neither Trichoplax nor the sea urchin have eyes. In addition, the genome of the sea urchin includes genes encoding transcription factors regulating the development of the retina (Burke et al., 2006).

The retina of the eye is basically and outgrowth of the brain. The evolution of the brain is linked to the buildup of calcium and the calcium-carbonate skeleton. Moreover, calcium plays a major role in retinal functioning including photoreceptor transduction, transmitter release by retinal neurons, and modulation of postsynaptic potentials in retinal ganglion cells (Akopian and Witkovsky 2002).

Thus with the evolution of calcareous skeleton, genes coding for nerve cells in the echinoderms (Burke et al., 2006; Cobb 2007) were also expressed creating neural tissue. Moreover, PAX genes coding for visual functioning were also expressed in these and numerous other metazoans at the outset of the Cambrian Explosion.

These eye-equipped metazoans included brachiopods, molluscs, arthropods, annelid worms, crustaceans (Briggs et al., 1994; Chen and Zhou, 1997; Chen et al., 1995, 1999, 2003; Shu et al., 1999; Shu et al., 2001; Siveter et al., 2001), and the phylum Chordata. The first Chordata (meaning: with a spinal cord) included tunicates and the first jawless fish who possessed a notochord and simplified brain that consisted of a brainstem and limbic forebrain. The first chordates in fact appeared at the onset of the Cambrian Explosion, during the first 10 million years (Chen et al., 1995, 1999). They also evolved in an explosive evolutionary burst in the absence of intermediate species.

Hence, during the Cambrian epoch there was a visual, skeletal, neural, cerebral and thus a cognitive perceptual explosion as the first true eyes and brains were established; eyes and brains which would continue to undergo a genetically preprogrammed metamorphosis until finally ending up in human heads.


Genes were transferred to the eukaryotic genome by archae, bacteria, and viruses, and were passed down, often without expression, through diverging and subsequent species. Prokaryotes also biologically modified the biosphere which triggered gene expression.

As different chemicals, gasses, minerals, and metals were sequentially released, various genes were activated and other silenced, giving rise to increasingly complex eukaryotic species. Climatic change, including and especially cyclic changes in global freezing and global warming also acted on gene expression; however, these climatic alterations were also a product of biological activity. With the onset of global warming and the ending of the Gaskiers glacial period 580 mya, the oceans were flooded with calcium, which triggered the expression of genes which regulate vision, the brain, and skeletal system.

By 540 mya, during the Cambrian Explosion, a complex array of life appeared throughout the world within 10 million years (Levinton, 1992; Kerr, 1993, 1995). With no history of derivative ancestral forms, all manner of complex life forms suddenly emerged with gills, intestines, joints, brains, and modern eyes equipped with retinas and fully modern optic lenses. These included organisms with a hard tube-like outer-skeleton consisting of calcium carbonate, and all manner of "small shelly fish" (Anabrites, Protohertzina), as well as jelly fish, mollusks, brachiopods, and the first chordates and arthropods (e.g. trilobites) which immediately sprouted legs and primitive brains.

These traits, and the genes that code for them did not randomly evolve. These species and these characteristics were precoded into genes which had been inherited from ancestral species, leading backward in time to the first creatures to appear on this planet.

However these protein coding genes and the genes and genetic mechanisms which regulate them, remained silent, or suppressed until the environment had been enriched with oxygen, silica, iron, calcium, and other minerals, enzymes, and gasses. The environment as well as the genomes of host species, had to be significantly altered and a variety of substances and minerals secreted into the air and the sea, before these silent genes could be activated.

Because numerous species inherited the same genes, introns, transposable elements, and the same master regulatory genes, once exposed to the same environmental triggers (Erwin, 1992; Erwin, 1999; Valentine et al., 1999; Knoll and Carroll, 1999), hundreds if not thousands of these genes were almost simultaneously expressed. This explains why hearts, eyes, complex bodies and brains were able to evolve quite suddenly, in numerous unrelated species, within a 10 million year time period during the Cambrian Explosion.



Sponges (which are a step below coelenterates; e.g., jelly fish, sea anemones, and Hydrozoa), evolved around 600 mya. Spones, although without true neurons, contain a very primitive organization of nervous-like tissue. This includes generalized sensory cells, the bulk of which are concentrated within and around their external orifices and pore sphincters through which sea water freely circulates. They also contain very generalized motor cells which is why young sponges are capable of amoeboid movements. It is these sensory and motor cells which presumably enable adult sponges to (very slowly) react to stimulation.

Sponges are also capable of a very slow protoplasmic form of information transmission which is made possible via microtubular neuroid activity. In addition to microtubules, sponges contain a number of neorotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine and acetylcholinesterase (Lentz 1968). These chemical transmitters are found in high concentrations within the human brain and are involved in memory, emotion, and movement. Hence, the nervous system of the sponge employs these neurotransmitters and displays a primitive type of neuroid transmission from which true nervous conduction may have evolved.


Along with the sponge, hydra may have also emerged at the outset of the Cambrian Explosion; or they may well have evolved over 1 billion years ago from the ancestral burrowing worms noted above. Although we can only speculate as to the neural organization of the burrowing worms from 1.3 billion years B.P., hydra are in possession of a "true" central nervous system including a well developed nerve net (Ariens Kappers, 1929; Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Papez, 1967; Romer, 1970). Hence, by the onset of the Cambrian Explosion it can be assumed that the nerve net had become well established in numerous species and that collections of neurons were forming ganglia and collections of neural-ganglia that served as a primitive, rudimentary brain.

The establishment of the nerve net was a major evolutionary accomplishment. With these network of interlinked neurons a multicellular organism could behave as a complete unit, in a controlled, highly coordinated and directed manner as different regions of the body could now communicate together almost simultaneously.

Again, although a rudimentary "nerve net" likely "evolved" well over a billion years ago, it is evident that by 550 million years ago a complex network of neurons, that is a "nervous system" had been established; a development that may have coincided with the appearance of the planaria, hydra, and flat worms; i.e. the coelenterates.

Over the course of evolutionary metamorphosis and the ensuing eons of time, these original externally located sensory and motor neurons began to migrate inward and to eventually collect together within the body so as to form collections of nuclei; i.e, neural ganglia (Ariens Kappers, 1929; Papez, 1967; Lentz 1958). Likewise, what had been a simple network of neurons located beneath the skin, became ganglionic and concentrated in the anterior "head region" of many organisms, such that separate masses of ganglions were now linked together. In consequence, as the Cambrian Explosion continued, creatures such as anthropods and chordates developed true brains.

The initial olfactory, visual, motor neuronal network first developed by the coelenterates was repeated and elaborated over the ensuing 50 million years of the Cambrian Explosion. However, with the evolution of anthropoids and chordates, two divergent patterns of central nervous system organization ensued. Among chordates, in addition to the head ganglions, the posterior nervous system would become stretched out, thus forming a single hollow tube that runs the length of the dorsal surface. By contrast, the central nervous system of the anthropods consists of a pair of nerve cords which run the length of the ventral surface, the belly. It if from anthropods that spiders, insects, crabs, lobsters, and shrimps evolved. However, if you turn an anthropod upside down, these nerve cords then become dorsally located, similar to vertebrates.

Those creatures whose descendants were destined to become vertebrates increasingly adapted to a life of swimming and they evolved an internal skeleton of rigid bone and cartilage which forms internally by accretion. By contrast, anthropods shed and then replace the external skeleton.

Like those who had come before them, these primitive and ancient pre-vertebrate animals maintained specialized neuroganglia sensitive to tactile, visual, and chemical/pheromonal (olfactory) stimulation, as well as ganglia involved in tactile-motor functions. As such, the first rudimentary features of what would become the olfactory-amygdala-straital forebrain, the visual midbrain, and the sensory-motor brainstem were probably first established almost 500 million years ago, during the latter phases of the Cambrian Explosion. Indeed, it was during this time period that the representative of the phylum Chordata emerged. These included tunicates (subphylum Urochordata) and the first jawless fish (e.g. Astraspis, Arandaspis) who possessed a notochord and an elongated brain that consisted of a spinal cord, brainstem, limbic forebrain. Hence, by time the first vertebrates and armored fish begin to swim the oceans, around 500 million years ago, the forebrain and brainstem and thus the brain had become fashioned (Ariens Kappers, 1929; Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Joseph, 1993; Papez, 1967; Romer, 1970), thereby giving rise to a cerebral and thus a cognitive explosion.


By 500 million years ago, motor nerve neural networks and related neural ganglia became increasingly organized and collected together thereby giving rise to the brainstem in species such as jawless tunicates and amphixious (protochordates) -the ancestors to true vertebrates.

The ancient brainstem (which soon differentiated into a medulla and pons) was (and continues to be) concerned with monitoring and controlling heart rate, breathing patterns, cortical arousal, sensory filtering, and reflexively triggering specific motor reactions to visual, vestibular, painful, sexual, and edible stimuli (Blessing, 1997; Donkelaar, 1990; Vertes, 1990). Over the course of evolution, the brainstem continued to evolve and contributed to the development of the posterior-ventral portion of the midbrain (see Romer, 1970; Sarnat & Netsky, 1974). Indeed, the caudal midbrain is tightly linked and in many respects anatomically resembles the brainstem. And spanning the length of both structures are reticular neurons.

Whereas the brainstem may have been fashioned from collections of sensory-motor neurons, the anterior-dorsal midbrain (and dorsal thalamus; Butler 1994) appears to have had a different origin. As noted, billions of years before the Cambrian Explosion, single celled organisms were engaging in photosynthesis and likely possessed photosensitive cells, even though they lacked eyes. Initially these cells were more concerned with extracting photo-chemicals from light and later evolved the capacity to detect various shades of illumination. However, as the DNA of these cells also contained the genetic potential for generating the capacity to see, and as the environment acts on gene selection, once the ozone layer had been established and the atmosphere to clear and to be saturated with oxygen, innumerable species emerged from their sheltered pockets and thus developed the capacity to distinguish light and shadow and form and shape. That is, the oxygenation of the planet including oxygenation of the oceans, contributed to the ability to develop vision.

These initial photosensitive cells were probably dorsally located. It is these photosensitive cells which would later give rise to the retina and yet others which would migrate internally to form visually sensitive neural ganglia. This light sensitive neural ganglia soon became the visual midbrain, dorsal thalamus, epithalamus, and dorsal hypothalamus; nuclei which over the course of evolution would serve as a bridge linking the motor-sensory brainstem/spinal cord with the chemically and olfactory sensitive forebrain-telencephalon.

However, within the forebrain, dorsal and caudally located neural tissues immediately adjacent to the diencephalon/brainstem, also became sensitive to visual information; i.e. the hippocampal portion of the amygdala-striatum. As will be detailed below, the forebrain initially consisted of a relatively undifferentiated collection of neural tissue, a composite of what would later (around 300 million years B.P.) become the amygdala, striatum, and later, the hippocampus. Specifically, because the hippocampal portion of the amygdala-striatum could detect light and shadow, this composite forebrain structure also evolved the capacity to direct the brainstem motor centers so as to approach (or avoid) light vs darkness, and gained the capacity to retain this information, thus forming visual-motor-spatial memories which assisted the organism when navigating and moving about their environment. That is, the hippocampus evolved "place cells."

Neurotransmitter Production.

As noted, some of those life forms which were among the first to take root on this planet digested minerals, inorganic substances, organic molecules, or relied on sunlight and photosynthesis as sources of energy. Those which were digesting organic and inorganic substances, therefore, possessed the capacity to manufacture the necessary chemical and enzymes which would be secreted in order to act on and break down these substances. These DNA-based capacities were thus harbingers to what would become the capacity to manufacture neurotransmitters.

As simple then complex multi-cellular creatures evolved, these DNA-chemical manufacturing capacities also evolved. Initially, these chemically secreting cells were externally located, whereas over the course of evolution, some of these cells migrated internally, forming chemically secreting ganglia, some of which eventually coalesced within the brainstem, whereas yet other became situated in the forebrain as an extension of chemically sensitive cells that remained externally located, thus giving rise to what would become the olfactory system. However, as noted, possibly even before the establishment of the nerve net, animals such as the sponge had presumably evolved the capacity to manufacture neurotransmitters well over 500 million years B.P.


For the first several billion years after the Earth was formed, chemically sensitive cells were originally located externally, some of which later became localized around a food consuming orifice. Be it a single celled chemoautotroph, or multi-cellular eukaryote, via the analysis of chemical secretions, a potential edible substance might be detected at a distance, could be deemed good to eat and was approached and consumed. Over the course of evolution, and since it is not very adaptive merely to absorb, or eat whatever comes into one's mouth, the ability to make distinctions, to recognize, and to make comparisons was also necessitated which resulted in the creation of memory -and this too was accomplished through chemical analysis and smell, and then later, via taste.

Over the course of "evolution" some of these chemically sensitive cells migrated internally, such that, during the course of the Cambrian Explosion, some became situated within the mouth and the "nose" thereby forming a specific collection of olfactory and pheromonally sensitive ganglia, which in turn would become the olfactory bulb and then the olfactory lobe and thus the limbic forebrain which initially was a somewhat undifferentiated composite of amgydala, striatal, and hippocampal tissue (the amgydalo-striatal gray).

As olfactory molecules could signal the presence of food, or a predator, or a sex partner, or a competitor, the olfactory bulb and olfactory lobe, and thus the olfactory-limbic system including the amygdala portion of the amygdala-striatum initially became concerned almost exclusively with feeding, fornicating, fighting, or fleeing (Joseph, 1992a, 1994, 1998a). As these chemicals were often secreted and detected at a distance, however, the olfactory forebrain was also provided a "pregnant interval" (Herrick, 1925) before it need respond. Because it need not respond immediately, it could also keep this information "in mind" thus giving rise to short term memory. Coupled with its ability to form long term memories so as to make distinctions and comparisons, the forebrain also became a memory center that was also storing in memory visual-spatial information as received by the hippocampus. Finally, because ultimately this information would often necessitate movement, the striatal portion of the forebrain became increasingly concerned with coordinating gross movements in response to directives from the hippocampus and the amygdala. Initially, however, that is during the later portion of the Cambrian Explosion, the amygdala-striatal-hippocampus formed a composite structure, i.e. striatoamygdaloid gray (limbic forebrain), which was essentially an extension predominantly of the olfactory system (Gloor, 1997; Stephan, 1983).

The limbic forebrain therefore, evolved predominantly from the olfactory system (Gloor, 1997; Herrick, 1925; Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990ab), and thus has an origin which is somewhat (but not completely) distinct from the midbrain, brainstem, and spinal cord. Indeed, with the exception of the visually responsive hippocampus, the limbic forebrain has an "olfactory" neural organization. In fact, this pattern of olfactory "neural" organization beginning with tunicates and cartilaginous fish, has not only been retained in all subsequent animal species, but it provided the foundation for what would become the telencephalon and the neocortex (e.g. Allman, 1990; Haberly, 1990).

Hence, to recapitulate, in contrast to the brainstem which reflexively reacts to proximal stimulation, the olfactory forebrain is able to sense stimuli at a distance, and thus has time to react. Because it need not react immediately, and as there are numerous chemicals within the external environment, the olfactory forebrain also evolved the capacity to selectively attend to and retain specific information. The olfactory forebrain thus became capable of learning and remembering. Memory, is thus olfactory in origin, as is the amygdala and portions of the hippocampus, the two main memory centers of the brain.



With the evolutionary metamorphosis of jawless and cartilaginous fish (Cylcostomes), the basic organization plan for the spinal cord, brainstem, midbrain, and olfactory forebrain had come to be established. In addition, the diencephalon had emerged, linking the forebrain with the brainstem, the ventral hypothalamic portion acting to notify the anterior and posterior halves of the brain regarding the internal status of the organism, and the dorsal thalamic portion becoming a major processing and relay center, transferring sensory signals to the forebrain.

The Hypothalamus

Although more ventrally situated, the hypothalamus consists of dorsal and ventral as well as anterior, lateral, medial, and caudal subnuclei. Although it is true that the more ancient aspects have been well conserved over the course of "evolution" the human hypothalmus is much more complex than that of a fish or shark as it also consists of additional nuclei which perform functions associated with sexual posturing, pregnancy, lactation, and menstruation.

Nevertheless, like the dorsal thalamus, the hypothalamus may have first emerged well over half a billion years ago, and was probably exceedingly responsive to light vs darkness, including visual signals transmitted from photosensitive cells located in the anterior head region. Although the mammalian hypothalamus no longer receives input from the third eye, like the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus, it receives direct retinal input via retinal axons. Hence, certain subnuclei have remained exceedingly responsive to light vs darkness.

Because large portions of the anterior-dorsal midbrain, dorsal thalamus and dorsal hypothalamus were initially derived from photosensitive cells and because these cells are effected by the rhythmical nature of the planet's rotation (which induce rhythmical periods of light and dark), photosensitive neurons located in these tissues also became adapted to these alterations and thus rhythmically sensitive (see Aronson et al. 1993; Morin 1994, for related discussion). Eventually they became capable of inducing and enforcing rhythmic activities within the central nervous system, including the forebrain, via their control over arousal and the production of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine --neurotransmitters which are manufactured by neurons located near the midbrain-brainstem junction (chapter 17). In addition, the manufacture and release of these neurotransmitters is also rhythmical, which in turn effects the overall functioning and arousal of the brain.


With the transition from tunicates to cartilaginous fish and the evolution of primitive jawless fish, 500 to 450 million years ago, the brainstem sprouted a number of cranial nerves through which it received and transmitted inpulses especially those related to the vestibular system. Moreover, with the evolution of gills and the tongue, the brachial nerves evolved which in turn were initially concerned with controlling the gills and movement of the tongue (Romer, 1970). The tongue may well have been the first muscular appendage subject to fine motor control, and it is a structure which first appears in Cyclostomes. Like the brainstem and forebrain, however, the tongue became more fully developed with the evolution of amphibians (i.e. frogs) and reptiles and snakes (Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Romer, 1970).

With the evolution of the jaw, and thus the first jawed armored fish, around 450 million years ago (Caroll, 2010; Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Romer, 1970) the brainstem underwent even further elaboration so as to coordinate the movements of not just the tongue but the mouth.

Initially there were at least two types of jawed species, one line of which diverged and gave rise to cartilaginous sharks and rays (elsmobranchs) -creatures which first appeared about 400 million years ago (Caroll, 2010). Sharks possess a well developed brainstem, olfactory limbic forebrain, and a large optic lobe (or tectum/colliculus) situated atop the midbrain (Haberly, 1990; Smeets, 1990).

Midbrain Optic/Auditory Tectum.

With the further evolution of sharks and other jawed creatures, the inferior portion of the midbrain optic tectum eventually became reorganized and increasingly concerned with processing and orienting toward auditory-vibratory stimuli. Over the course of evolution, the inferior portion of the midbrain gave rise to the inferior colliculus which is concerned with analyzing and responding to auditory stimuli by triggering head and body movements toward the source. In sharks auditory-vibratory information is received via receptors located in maculae sacculi (Smeets, 1990), whereas mechanical and electrical i,pulses are received via the lateral line system -all of which are then relayed to the brainstem and cerebellum, and then the midbrain and telencephalon via the thalamus.


The cerebellum first evolved over 450 million years, well before the emergence of the first vertebrates, and is thus a characteristic part of the brain in cartilaginous fish and prevertebrates, as well as in fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals (Larsell, 1967-1972). Specifically, the cerebellum evolved out of the vestibular nuclei and is derived from the rhombic lip and ectodermal thickenings around the cephalic borders of the fourth ventricle. The cerebellum, however, began as a rudimentary appendage to the brainstem, as is evident in hagfish and lampreys, and then progressively increases in size in the progression from fish to mammals.

Hence, during the early stages of evolution, as primitive creatures were without limbs, they possessed only a small nubbin of cerebellum - referred to as the flocculonodular lobe -what would become the paleocerebellum (also referred to as the archicerebellum). This tissue presumably acted to coordinate the axial muscles which the position of the head, trunk, and eyes, and probably also acted to integrate these movements in response to motivational commands transmitted by the limbic system.


The olfactory system probably gave rise to a very primitive amygdala-striatum-hippocampus some 500 hundred millions years ago when the protochordates first emerged and the ancestors of the first eel-like cyclostomes and the wormlike, burrowing, limbless Gymnophiona first slithered upon the scene (Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Romer, 1970). The modern day descendants of these creatures are apparently little different from their ancestors and possess a hypothalamus, olfactory system and a amygdala-striatum-hippocampus (Ariens Kappers, 1929; Papez, 1967).

This neural organizational and structural pattern was retained but became more elaborate over the ensuing 100 million years, as is evident from an examination of the brain of cartilaginous fish. Cartilaginous "fish" such as sharks, are considered a "living fossil" and first began to swim the seas 450 million years B.P. Dissection of the shark brain reveals a large forebrain and large olfactory bulbs (see Figure ).

The majority of the shark forebrain consists of a dorsal and ventral amygdala-striatum (also referred to as the striatoamygdaloid gray) as well as a medial-posterior hippocampal-striatum (also referred to as the medial pallium). Thus the amygdala and striatum are enmeshed forming a dorsal lateral/ventral lobe, and the medial posterior striatum-hippocampus are ensmeshed forming a medial core, as is also evident in cyclostromes, fish, and (to a much lesser degree) in tailed amphibians (urodela).

It is also evident, at least from an examination of ancient endocasts, that cartilaginous and armored fish, who swam the seas over 400 million years ago possessed a forebrain which, when the olfatory bulb and tracts are included, constitute well over half the entire brain (see Figure ). Thus early in the course of animal and neurological evolution, the forebrain was the dominant brain structure--at least in gross size. The forebrain, however, consisted almost entirely of a dorsal/ventral amygdala/striatum and the medial/posterior hippocampus/striatum which formed a composite allocortical structure, with the former dominated by the olfactory system and the latter dominated by the visual system (Haberly, 1990; Smeets, 1990; Ulinksi, 1990).

This composite pattern of neurological forebrain structural organization was retained even after the first lobed finned fish emerged from the waters to venture upon land. In fact, once animals began to dwell upon the surface of the odorous perfumed earth, olfactory cues assumed increased importance, such that the forebrain began to expand and land living animals evolved a vomeronasal organ and an accessory olfactory bulb and accessory olfactory tract so as to accommodate the demands of living in an olfactory world. Once they had become adapted to dry land, the expanding amygdala, striatum, and hippocampus became separate structures


With the evolution of jawed and bony fish about 400 million years ago (Caroll, 2010), the arches between the brachial clefts (or gills) became increasingly modified and much smaller and increasingly concerned with supporting the jaw (Romer, 1970; Sarnat & Netsky, 1974). Hence, over the course of phylogeny the brachial arches eventually became the mandible and maxilla of the jaw; events which coincided with major alterations in specific brainstem nuclei and the later development of specific cranial nerves associated with the jaw and facial musculature. For example, the brachial nerves became specialized and split off to form the vagal, glossopharyngeal trigeminal, and facial nerves (Romer, 1970; Sarnat & Netsky, 1974) whereas what would become the periaqueductal gray became to differentiate--a structure that would later become modified so as to coordinate the oral musculature for the purposes of vocalization.

At least one brach of bony fish gave rise to the sarcopterygian (lobe finned), fish who appeared during the Devonian age, some 400 million years ago (Caroll, 2010). Lobed finned fish possessed a cranium which was divided into two parts (a frontal-sphenoid portion and an occipital region). They had also evolved a brain and cerebellum that in many respects is quite similar to that of amphibians and even reptiles (Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990b; Stephan, 1983). Like sharks, lobed finned fish never became extinct as over 80 specimens have been caught off the coast of southeast Africa over the course of the last 50 years (Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990b).

With the evolution of bony fish, and then the lobe finned fish (Sarcopterygii), and lungfish (Dipnoi), the forebrain began to mushroom outward, forming a distinct telencephalon. These forebrain structures also increasingly became the recipient of visual, acoustic, and lateral line information which was relayed via the brainstem, midbrain, and thalamus (Butler 1994; Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990; Stephan, 1983). The subpallium (or floor) as well as the hemispheres of the telencephalon also became increasingly differentiated into distinct nuclear groups (Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990). For example, the amygdala-limbic (ventral) striatum, and the corpus (dorsal) striatum, ballooned outward to become the caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens. Also, a definite two layered cortex began to form along the pallial surface of the telencephalon (Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990) which in turn was likely a derivative of the midbrain. Over the course of evolution, neurons contributed by and related to the amygdala, hippocampus, and septal nuclei, would increasingly sandwich themselves between these two layers, eventually giving rise to neocortex.

In addition, among some species the brainstem became more complex and increasingly adapted for controlling breathing, which in turn coincided with the development of "lungs" --evolutionary events that were not random but under precise genetic control. Moreover, some species developed both lung and limbs, including Dipnoans and Coelacanths who began to venture forth upon the Earth. In addition to their dorsal fins the lobefinned Coelacanths possessed two well formed "fleshy-lobed" paired fins: the internal skeleton of which includes a humerus, femur, radius, ulna, tibia and fibula (Caroll, 2010; Jerison, 1973; Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990b; Romer, 1970). These lobe fins although acting to improve swimming and maneuverability, also enabled these fish to probe and root among the fertile ocean floor and eat of its plant and other organic life (Jerison, 1973; Romer, 1970). Hence, it is from these lobed fins that legs would eventually "evolve" (Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Romer, 1970).

The lobed "fleshy" finned lung fish were in fact the perfect transitional species. Indeed, numerous species of lobed-fins lived mainly in rivers and freshwater seas and could venture forth and live on land due the to internal air sacs embedded within their fins. These air sacs could pass oxygen directly into the blood stream. This "breathing" ability enabled them not only to venture forth, but to hole up in caked mud during the dry seasons.

Moreover, unlike other fish which are externally fertilized and which lay eggs in the open water (which are then greedily gobbled by yet other denizens of the sea), the lobe finned lung fish were fertilized inside the body and could bear the young alive. These events coincided with major adaptions within the hypothalamus which developed additional nuclei that subserved the hormonal events associated with "pregnancy" and live births.


As the descendants of the fleshy finned lung fish became adapted to living on dry land, and as the environment acts on gene selection, the lobed fins underwent further modification due to the gravitational demands of a dry land environment. That is, the forces of gravity require strength in the supporting and moving appendanges, such that in consequence, legs evolved. Soon such creatures were able to expend a greater amount of time out of the water and began to diversify. Hence, by 350 million years ago the lobe finned fish presumably evolved into a fish with four and seven toes legs, the eusthenopteron and ichthyostegas. These amphibian-like creatures looked something like a cross between a fish and a big salamander, with flat heads and long tails, and short stocky feet like a turtle (Caroll, 2010; Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Romer, 1970). Presumably it is these intermediate species which in turn evolved into amphibians, some of which grew up to 15 feet length.

It is possible that eusthenopterons, as well as the Ichthyostegas, like bony and cartilaginous fish, were equipped with a lateral line system which enabled them to perceive vibration and rudimentary sound. However, because they were also walking on dry land, they had also evolved specialized nuclei that could respond to vibrations transmitted through the feet and the legs, which were hitched directly to the skull. This enabled these and like-minded animals not only to walk but to perceive and hear vibration transmitted through their feet.

The Evolution of Auditory Perception

Once vibrations could be transmitted directly to the skull, as the environment acts on gene selection, the brainstem underwent further modification and evolved an additional cranial nerve, in order to receive, process, and act on this information. Hence, once the descendants of the lobed finned lung fish had become fully adapted to living on land, that is around 350 to 300 million years ago, the acoustic nerve appeared as a derivative of portions of the vagal, glosopharyngeal, and facial nerves and the vestibular nuclei (Sarnat & Netsky, 1974). It is from the brainstem vestibular system that the mammalian auditory system evolved (Ariens Kappers, 1968; Papez, 1967).

However, the first amphibians and reptiles lacked an inner or true middle ear, but were capable of hearing low level vibrations and sounds, such as croaking, tails thumped on the ground, and a few distress calls and those of contentedness. Limbic language capabilities and the ability to engage in complex auditory communication is not well developed in these creatures as sound production is for the most part reflexive and mediated by upper brainstem nuclei (the periaqueductal gray). Purposeful vocal communication would first require tremendous alterations in the ability to hear sound which in turn would promote the ability to purposefully produce sound.

As noted, the development of hearing was a consequence of the evolutionary metamorphosis of the vibratory sense and the lateral line organs; structures which make their first rudimentary appearance in cyclostomes (van Bergeik, 1966). However, among bony fish, a well developed closed canal system of lateral line organs had long ago developed beneath the scales and within the skin. It is the membrane that covers these canals which responds to and transmit vibrations picked up in sea water.

However, sharks and bony fish do no perceive sound per se (van Bergeik, 1966), at least in the manner analogous to mammals. Rather, in the progression from cartilaginous to lobed finned fish, the lateral line system became increasingly modified so as to form the labyrinth which in turn was capable of detecting the animals own movements as well as that of other creatures (van Bergeik, 1966). In more advanced vertebrates the labyrinth forms and leads to the creation of the three semicircular canals which are responsible for perceiving motion, movement, and spatial orientation. Over the course of evolution, nerves from the semicircular canals in turn became enmeshed within the acoustic nerve. Together they terminate within the medulla of the brainstem and send collaterals to the evolving cerebellum and the inferior auditory midbrain tectum.

As noted, the mammalian auditory system did not evolve from the lateral line but from from the jaw and scapula and a cluster of nerve cells located within the brainstem, the vestibular nucleus (Ariens Kappers, 1968; Papez, 1967). That is, the ability to hear sound is derived from vibratory perception and which was initially made possible via bone conduction.

Once the first amphibian-like creatures evolved and began to crawl upon dry land, some 350 million years ago, bone conduction replaced the lateral line system as a means of detecting vibrations and thus the rudiments of sound (Tumarkin, 1968). However, because these creatures at first crawled upon their bellies, they were able to detect vibrations through their legs as well as through the lower jaw which would stereotypically rest upon the ground. In consequence, the hyomandibular bone of the bony (jawed) fish evolved into the amphibian (and mammalian) stapes. In addition, the vestibuloscapular bone located atop the scapula of the amphibian shoulder became modified to form the vestibuloscapular ossicle which enabled vibrations to be perceived through the legs even when the head and jaw were no longer on the ground (Tumarkin, 1968).

With further refinements in the structure and support of the jaw, and with the evolution of reptiles, and then the repto-mammals and then the dinosaurs some 250-225 million years ago, the articular and quadrate bones (which formerly supported the mandible) became modified along with the stapes to form the three ossicles of the middle ear. What had been the amphibian vestibuloscapular ossicle, evolved into the oval window (Tumarkin, 1968). When this occurred, the dorsal midbrain (the inferior auditory tectum/colliculus) had become mammalian-like in organization and specialized for perceiving, analyzing, and orienting toward complex sounds. However, with the evolution of reptile, the midbrain underwent further elaboration, and a specific structure evolved which made the possible the ability to vocalize a range of sound; i.e. periqueductal gray. Specifically, the midbrain periqueductal gray became specialized for coordinating the oral-facial, laryngeal, and respiratory muscles which enabled reptiles, repto-mammals, and all subsequent creatures to vocalize.

The Cerebellum

Whereas initially the cerebellum received information from the lateral line organs and vestibular complex of the fish (which conveyed information regarding balance and a primitive form of hearing via vibration), as life forms took to living on dry land, the cerebellum began to progressively expand in accordance with the increased input being provided, receiving visual, proprioceptive, somesthetic, and complex auditory stimuli.

With the evolution of amphibians and true legs the cerebellum was forced to assume new roles, including the coordination of axial (trunk) and appendicular (limb) muscles which it influences via feedback from the spinocerebellar tracts.

As an evolutionary outgrowth of the vestibular system, a primary concern of the cerebellum has been and continues to be stablizing the body and acting to coordinate the axial muscles which the position of the head, trunk, and eyes.Thus as animal life began to wonder about the earth on four (and later two) legs, the anterior lobes of the cerebellum began to evolve in order to meet these demands. Thus disturbances of this region can therefore result in dystaxia predominatly in the legs. Moreover, the cerebellum began to expand in parallel with the increased size and complexity of the telencephalon--structures which would also transmit to as well as receive input from the cerebellum. It also expanded its interconnections with the limbic forebrain so as to react in accordance with affective needs. Thus the cerebellum also evolved the capacity to integrate these movements in response to motivational commands transmitted by the limbic system.

Later, with the emergence of bipedal posture increasingly complex demands were placed on the anterior and the emerging posterior cerebellum in order to coordinate gait and upper as well as lower limb movements. This corresponded with the evolution of the neocerebellum (including the dentate gyrus and the cerebellar hemispheres), which in turn paralleled neocortical expansion in the forebrain and the development of temporal sequential and fine motor functioning. In modern creatures, including humans, disequilibrium of stance and gait with little or no extremity dystaxia is usually due to lesions in the flocculonodular lobe (caudal vermis).


The first amphibians evolved from probably a variety of precursor forms, including the freshwater dwelling rhipidistians (a bran of the crossopterygians), some 350 to 400 million years ago, during the Devonian (Caroll, 2010). The amphibian brain, although sharing basic similarities with the brain of the fish, underwent an expansion in the dorsal amygdala-striatum such that the amygdala began to split off. Moreover, with the expansion of olfactory cortex including the development of an accessory olfactory lobe, the vomeronasal organ, the olfactory system obtained and gained a privileged access to the telencephalon and further acted to push apart the amygdala and striatum, thus creating a completely separate amygdala.

In amphibians, it is noteworthy that the main oflactory system also terminates on the medial pallium/hippocampus. However, with the evolution of reptiles, the main olfactory system joined the vomeronasal organ (see below) and increased the size of its projections to the amygdala, and increased its representation further with the evolution of mammals. In consequence, as the hippocampus also received olfactory input, the connections between the amygdala and hippocampus underwent significant expansion and both became concerned with analyzing and remembering various aspects of the new olfactory world. In the process, the amygdala became increasingly associative, and dominated by olfactory sensations, and increasingly capable of mediating all aspects of olfactory-emotion. In conjunction with the hippocampus, the amygdala was also able to create an olfactory map of external reality and to related this to internal reality. However, in acquiring the capacity to differentiate between an internal and an external reality, personal identity began to emerge.

Initially, olfactory sensation provided the foundations for a personal reality, that is, through marking. What is marked indicates a personal identity and personal possession, be it territory or a sex partner. Thus, once animals had become adapted to dry land they also developed personal identities which was mediated and sustained via the olfactory limbic system, the amygdala in particular.

The Vomeronasal Organ

With the evolution of amphibians (the tailless anura) the forebrain and olfactory system expanded in response to the motoric and olfactory demands of living on dry soil including those related to the ability to perceive pheromones.

Living in a perfumed world of smell, and as the environment acts on gene selection the olfactory cortex began to expand its projections to and representation within the forebrain. In addition, an accessory olfactory lobe evolved coupled to a vomeronasal organ which was specialized for analyzing these additional and more varied and complex olfactory sensations, including those chemical messengers referred to as pheromones.

Fish, sharks, and other non-mammalian denizens of the sea, do not possess a vomeronasal organ (Smeets, 1990). Rather, these creatures have only two chemosensory systems, taste and olfaction which they employ to detect motivationally significant stimuli such as the presence of food, a mating partner, or a predator.

Hence, in contrast to fish, who use olfactory to detect distant emotionally and motivationally significant stimuli, with the evolution of the vomeronasal organ, amphibians were provided the ability to detect distant olfactory cues distinct from those of the main olfactory system, thus conferring a tremendous ability to detect and analyzed local and distant, recent and past events and stimuli including those related to the presence of predators, prey and potential sex partners. Indeed, in amphibians and reptiles, the vomeronasal organ is involved in mediating the classic four "fs" feeding, fighting, fleeing, and sexual activity, as well as promoting social behavior; i.e. aggregating (Halpern, 2007).

The vomeronasal organ projects through the amygdala in order to reach the hypothalamus which thus became increasingly specialized to process and respond to, as well as secrete chemical messages, in a reflexive fashion. The hypothalamus also began to respond to pheromonal cues by relating this information to sexual and reproductive status which it in turn could signal via the release of various hormones.

The evolution of the vomeronasal organ was a completely novel development which resulted in major alterations in the structure and organization of the forebrain. For example, in addition to the altered organization of the hypothalamus, the amygdala became a completely separate structure (Herrick, 1948; Nieuwenhuys, 1967), due to the evolution of the vomeronasal organ which transmitted directly to the amygdala. The amygdala also increased in size and evolved new functional capacities and additional subnuclei in response; i.e. the lateral and medial segments.

The Amygdala, Pheromones and Emotion

As the olfactory system more than doubled in size and importance, it increased its privileged access to the telencephalon and further acted to push apart the amygdala and striatum, thus creating a completely separate amygdala (Stephan & Andy, 1977). Through this reorganized and more emotionally-sensitive amygdala, and via the nascent vomeronasal organ and enlarged olfactory system, amphibians were provided the ability to analyze distant as well as old and recent olfactory and pheromonal cues that could not be detected by main olfactory system (MacLean, 1990).

For example, via the detection of pheromones the organism could determine the intent and social-emotional status of conspecies who may have passed by hours or even days before, as well as signal and leave chemical messages conveying it's own intent, motivation, social position, and/or sexual availability (Ackerman 1990; Blum 1985; Mayer & Mankin 1985; Michael & Keverne, 1974; Tamaki 1985; Wilson, 1980). Moreover, not just food and potential mates, but status, aggressive vs submissive intent, sickness and health, and individual identity could be easily ascertained as well as signaled via the secretion and perception of pheromonal signals, including those that could instruct in a step-wise fashion, complex behaviors including those pertaining to sex; e.g. approach, mount, insert penis, thrust, and thrust again. In fact, just as these phermonal secretions can trigger reflexive sexual behavior in most species, direct electrical activation of these limbic structures (e.g. the amygdala, hypothalamus) can produce involuntary sexual responses including ovulation, uterine contractions, penil erection, thrusting, ejaculation and orgasm (Backman & Rossel, 1984; Currier et al., 1971; Freemon & Nevis,1969; Warneke, 1976; Remillard et al., 1983; Shealy & Peel, 1957).

With the evolution of reptiles the vomeronasal organ had also become well differentiated. The amygdala also became organized so as to process and analyze external olfactory and pheromonal stimuli and to determine its possible social, emotional, motivational, and sexual significance--a capacity that quickly came to include the ability to process visual and auditory stimuli in a likewise fashion (Gloor, 1997). That is, capacities that evolved in response to olfactory input could now be used for analyzing visual and auditory input that was being provided to the forebrain from the expanded brainstem. Moroever, the amygdala and the hippocampus began to store this information in memory, so as to make comparisons with previous impressions, and could relay these impressions to each other and to other forebrain structures for additional analysis.

The Amygdala Striatum

Because these animals were living in a world where visual and auditory input was magnified, the amygdala also began to receive visual and auditory input which was projected to it via the thalamus (Stephan, 1983). In consequence, the amygdala, therefore, was able to apply olfactory and pheromonal analytical principles to auditory and visual input, and thus scrutinize this information for motivational, sexual, and emotional significance. And, through its still extensive interconnections with the striatum, it evolved the capacity to transmit emotional signals motorically and which could thus be detected by other animals visually. Animals were evolving what would become body language and signature displays (Maclean, 1990).

The striatum, therefore also evolved new capacities due to the increased motor demands of living on dry land, such that the motor aspects of the striatum began to increasingly differentiate and to evolve in response to and in order to meet these new motoric needs. The dorsal aspect of the striatum became a rudimentary dorsal striatum, and the ventral aspect became the ventral (limbic) striatum, whereas what would become the hippocampus remained dorsal-medially located and part of the medial striatum (Gloor, 1997; Stephan, 1983); i.e. the light and visually sensitive medial pallium.


To recapitulate, this great expansion and reorganization of the amygdala/hippocampal-striatum was initiated with the evolution of the first amphibians. The first amphibians probably evolved from a variety of precursor forms, including the freshwater dwelling rhipidistians (a branch of the crossopterygians). This was 350 to 400 million years ago, during the Devonian (Caroll, 2010). The amphibian brain shares basic similarities with the brain of the fish. However, as these and other species became adapted to living on land, the dorsal amygdala-striatum began to expand in response to increased olfactory, visual and auditory input, and in consequence the amygdala began to split off from what had been a composite amygdalostriatum (Stephan & Andy, 1977)--a consequence also of penetrating fiber pathways directed to it and the striatum by the visual and auditory systems and the enlarged olfactory system.

However, it should be noted that although the hippocampus is considered part of the limbic system and the limbic forebrain, that it does not have an olfactory neural organization (Ulinsky, 1990). Moreover, the hippocampus is exceedingly sensitive to visual stimulation, and is capable of forming and remembering a visual-spatial map of the external environment. The hippocampus is also associated with motor functioning. Indeed, memory, motor functioning and spatial mapping of the environment are in fact linked, for if one is to navigate through the environment, they need to remember why and where they are going, and how to get there--functions associated with the human and non-human hippocampus (see chapters 13, 14). Given that the hippocampus was originally dorsally located, and in "lower mammals" consists of dorsal as well as ventral aspects, and as other dorsal structures such as the dorsal midbrain and thalamus are in part derived from the visual system, then it may well be that the dorsal hippocampus is also visual in origin, whereas the ventral hippocampus is an olfactory derivative.

However, over the course of "evolution" the dorsal hippocampus has migrated to a more ventral position, fashioning the medial parietal and medial-caudal temporal lobe in the process. Hence, in the human brain, the ventral and dorsal hippocampus is instead referred to as the anterior and posterior hippocampus. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that these two aspects subserve different albeit related functions. For example, in the transition from short term to long-term memory, it appears that "memories" migrate from the anterior to posterior hippocampus (see chapter 14).


The Visual Thalamus and the Third Eye

The thalamus is part of the diencephalon, and serves as an interactive "bridge" that links the brainstem and forebrain, acting to relay and regulate information flow between these two structures. It was possibly around 500,000 million years ago, during the Cambrian Explosion, that the thalamus began to rapidly evolve. Due to its its dorsal superior position atop the ancestral brain, it received and was quite responsive to overhead ambient light, and apparently received visual signals through retinal neurons located in a depression in the superior surface of the skull, as did the midbrain (Butler 1994). Hence, the thalamus was probably originally concerned predominately with visual stimuli and may have directed photopic information to both the brainstem and forebrain. In fact, the ancestral thalamus developed (via the epithalamus), a third photo-sensitive "eye" i.e. the pituitary/pineal eye. The pituitary/pineal eye first made its appearance about 400 million years ago with the evolution of the lamprey. Many ancient vertebrates possessed a parietal (third) eye, including creatures ancestral to modern reptiles, amphibians and fish (Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Romer, 1970).

Among more advanced vertebrates, the third eye has completely disapeared though the pineal gland has been retained. Nevertheless, the thalamus has remained visually responsive and through the geniculate nucleus, continues to receive, process, and transfer visual information received from the retinas as well as from the visual midbrain (Butler 1994; Casagrande & Joseph, 1978, 1980; Ebbesson, et al. 1972). Thus, although the human thalamus has lost its third eye, it continues to receive direct retinal input which is transmitted, via the optic radiations, to the occipital and inferior temporal and superior parietal lobes.


As noted, the hypothalamus, upon receiving pheromonal input via the vomeronasal organ became increasingly concerned with sexual and reproductive activities. However, this structure also began receiving increased visual input which was directed to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN not only become adapted to the daily cyclic rhythm associated with day and night, but acquired the capacity to secrete hormones and exert other influences on the brain in accordance with these daily rhythms. For example, the SCN appears to be the "master clock" for the generation of circadian rhythms; rhythms which have a period length of 24 hours (Aronson et al. 1993; Morin 1994).

However, if the SCN, for whatever reasons, fails to receive sufficient light, these circadian rhythms and associated hormonal secretions may become abnormal. As night is associated with reduced activity and sleep, under conditions of insufficient light and thus SCN abnormalities, patients may become lethargic and suffer from reduced energy and motivation; that is, they become depressed.

For example, the hypothalamic-pituitary axis secretes melatonin in phase with the circadian rhythm. Phase-delayed rhythms in plasma melatonin secretion have also been observed in many patients with this light sensitive form of depressed (see Wirz-Justice et al. 1993, for review). However, with light therapy, not only is the depression relieved but the melatonin secretions return to normal. This is significant for melatonin is derived from tryptophan via serotonin and low serotonin levels have been directly linked to depression (e.g. Van Pragg 1982). Moreover, the hypothalamus (and the midbrain) may act to regulate serotonin release (Chaouloff 1993), which in turn may explain why serotonin levels rhythmically fluctuate (e.g. such as during the sleep cycle), or become abnormal when denied sufficient light; i.e. the production of serotonin by the raphe nucleus (in the pons) is abnormally effected.

On the other hand, there is also some suggestion that abnormal temperature perception, or aging within the SCN may be responsible for the genesis of depressive in these cases. For example, age related changes in the SCN have been noted to adversely effect circadian rhythm generation as well as metabolic and peptide activity (Aronson et al. 1993). In consequence, rest vs active cycles also become abnormal, with reductions in arousal and activity; i.e. the patient becomes depressed.


By 360 million years ago a variety of five-toed amphibians, some up to 15 feet long were swarming over the planet. To accommodate the increased need for land-based motor control, further alterations occurred within the brainstem, cerebellum, thalamus, and striatal forebrain which expanded increasingly worked in tandem so as to initiate and coordinate species specific behavior patterns. In additon, the midbrain auditory and visual colliculi evolved feature detecting cells that could recognize specific prey by sight or sound. The midbrain also evolved the ability to visually mediate prey catching behaviors through specific motor programs and movements (Donkelaar, 1990). Hence, for a brief time amphibians "ruled" the world as they were more social, and more intelligent than those who had come before them.

By 350 million to 300 million years B.P., the first reptiles appeared. Unlike their amphibious cousins, the reptiles were better engineered for living on dry land. For example, in addition to their scaly water proofed skins, they developed hip and shoulder girdles which improved their speed of movement and maneuverability. They also evolved a brain equipped with a well defined corpus and limbic striatum, and an expanded limbic system, whereas the hypothalamus was forced to develop new methods of thermoregulation in order to accomdate to life on dry land including additional nuclei that would prove the hormonal support for a "new" way of giving birth. In contrast to amphibians who must return to the water to breed and produce young, the reptiles could breed and lay amniote/cleidoic (shell covered) eggs on land from which emerged miniature adults.

With the evolution of reptiles the lower brainstem also underwent additional differentiation and elaboration and unlike all previous creatures, reptiles began demonstrating mammal-like sleep periods (Ulinski, 1990). However, there is no evidence that reptiles experience "slow wave" or dream sleep. Living on land also necessitated additional evolutionary developments within the brainstem reticular formation, which began to resemble that of mammals (Newman & Cruce, 1982). Coupled with the ability to perceive sound, the extension and evolution of the reticular formation also contributed to evolution of the inferior auditory colliculus. With the evolution of these new midbrain capacities, amphibians and reptiles also gained the capacity to become aroused by and to oriented toward specific sounds.


Moreover, with the progressive evolution of amphibians and then reptiles, the vestibular nucleus, inferior colliculi, medial geniculate thalamus, amygdala, and striatum also expanded and evolved the capacity not only to perceive sounds but to trigger orienting and alarm reactions in response to transient auditory stimuli -characteristics these nuclei retain even in modern primates (Edeline & Weinberger, 1991; Hitchock & Davis, 1991; Hocherhman & Yirmiya, 1990). Moreover, as the amygdala and striatum expanded the ability to perceive and display complex social emotional states also evolved.


With the evolution of reptiles, much of the amygdala had been completely displaced and was now ventrally located, whereas the hippocampus remained medially-dorsally situated (Gloor, 1997; Stephan & Andy, 1977; Ulinski, 1990). The striatum, however, remained as initially situated but in expanding became the ventral (limbic) and dorsal (corpus) striatum.

Specifically, it appears (as based on comparative neuronatomy) that the ventral aspect of the amygdala-striatum began to separate forming a distinct amygdala segment which remained ventrally located, and which extended along the ventricular floor, merging with the preoptic area as is the case in anurans (tailless amphibians). In mammals and humans, this ventral amygdala segment has twisted and rotated and has been pushed anteriorally, becoming the medial amygdala. Yet another amygdala segment initially remained somewhat dorsally situated (though still connected with the medial amygdala), becoming over the course of evolution (and as it rotated, shifted position and was pushed ventrally and anteriorally) the lateral amygdala.

As the amygdala became reorganized to process secondary olfactory input including pheromonal chemical messengers transmitted by the vomeronasal organ (e.g., Bakker et al., 1996; Dudley et al., 1992), the main olfactory system also increased in size and increased its projections to the amygdala, and the hippocampus and hypothalamus (Stephan & Andy, 1977). Hence, all three limbic structures were directly influenced by olfactory/pheromonal cues, the hypothalamus responding emotionally, sexually, or with hunger, and the hippocampus comparing this data to previous impressions and related visual input, and then storing this information in memory.

As the hippocampus was also receiving visual input, it began to expand, becoming increasingly allocortical, forming (along with the amygdala) the piriform lobe. Moreover, the hippocampus began to give rise to mesocortical tissue, and what would eventually become the entorhinal cortex which covers portions of the hippocampus like a shroud and relays information to it and from it. Through the interactions of the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus, and in response to visual and olfactory input, the hippocampus gained the ability to integrate, learn and remember these attributes including their location in visual-olfactory space. The hippocampus became increasingly able to employ olfactory and visual cues in order to form a visual-olfactory map of the environment.

The amygdala also began integrating and storing these cues in memory. Moreover, it was able to act on these signals through connections still maintained with the striatum. Hence, just as the vomeronasal organ and olfactory system are involved in mediating the classic four "fs" feeding, fighting, fleeing, and sexual activity, as well as promoting social behavior; i.e. aggregating (Halpern, 2007) the amygdala became similarly organized and also became increasingly involved in regulating reproductive activities and in controlling the affective aspects of motor behavior via the striatum (MacLean, 1990).


The vomeronasal organ projects to the hypothalamus as well as the amygdala The hypothalamus, therefore, also became increasingly responsive to pheromonal cues, especially in regard to sex, aggression, and feeding behaviors. In consequence, the connections between the hypothalamus and amygdala were also increased so that they could engage in coordinated action.

Likewise, since the visually responsive hippocampus/entorhinal cortex also received olfactory input, the connections between the amygdala and hippocampus were significantly expanded, and the hippocampus and hypothalamus also strengthened interconnections, thus forming the initial core of the limbic system which relied on the striatum and brainstem to act on its olfactory-triggered desires, urges and needs.

Now bound together in a common olfactory-limbic purpose, these structures could act in a coordinated fashion. The amygdala, upon detecting an emotionally significant stimulus, could act on the hippocampus, and together they could learn or generate appropriate memories. Both structures could also act on the hypothalamus so as to promote the generation of core emotional reactions including the secretion of necessary hormones and peptides. These structures could also act on the striatum so that appropriate behaviors related to feeding, fighting, fleeing, of sexual activity could take place.

The amygdala and hippocampus in particular, were also able to create an olfactory map of external reality and could not relate this to internal reality thus creating a separate internal and external reality, which in turn gave rise to personal reality, and an individual identity that was separate from the world and other creatures. Indeed, through olfactory cues, scent marking, an animal is able to advertise not only its personal, individual identity and status, but its personal possessions, such as its territory or sex partner.


Initially, the amygdala was joined to the striatum creating a single allocortical structure. However, as it was pushed apart, the medial amygdala remained closely associated with the striatum but was also receiving significant olfactory and pheromonal input. Consistent with its origins, the medial nuclei responds to olfactory input, but also analyzes auditory and visual and tactile stimuli transmitted to it from the brainstem and thalamus. If the stimulus is determined to be emotionally or motivationally significant, the medial amygdala, including that of cartilaginous fish, is able to trigger complex affective-motor movements, such as fleeing, fighting, feeding, or sexual behavior, and this is accomplished via the striatum and through joint projections to the brainstem.

However, not only the amygdala, but the striatum split into separate structures, including the dorsally located caudate and putamen, and the ventrally situated limbic striatum. The dorsal striatum, however, ceased to receive olfactory input, whereas the ventral (limbic) striatum continued to. The limbic striatum, therefore, remained concerned with analyzing olfactory-related stimuli, as well as retaining this information, thus becoming a memory as well as a motor center that could act at the behest of amygdaloid influences. In contrast, the corpus striatum became increasingly concerned with affective-motor behaviors, including postural and behavioral displays associated with feeding, fighting, and sexual courtship. This was accomplished through major motor pathways, the "extra-pyramidal" system, which projected directly to the brainstem. Indeed, the striatum is the main motor output center of the forebrain (Donkelaar, 1990).

Thus the amygdala, through the striatum and via the dopamine neurotransmitter system, could now influence the more "hard wired" brainstem, so that the creatures emotional state could be expressed in a manner that was much more flexible and less reflexive. Thus in response to amygdala activation, the striatum could be stimulated in order to produce complex emotional displays, including those requiring rapid gross motor reponses, such as fleeing and fighting, via the brainstem (cf Heimer & Alheid, 1991; Mogenson & Yang, 1991).

The Amygdala, Striatum and Affective Motor Behavior

With the evolution of reptiles, a greater degree of complexity begans to typify male vs female sexual behavior and social-emotional behavior. Hence, the lateral (cortical) amygdala (which is concerned with complex sexual and social-emotional functions) began to evolve (Neary, 1990). Like the much more ancient central medial (and extended) amygdala, the lateral amygdala maintains rich interconnections with the hypothalamus and the preoptic area -nuclei concerned with sexual activities and male vs female sex specific behavior (see chapter 13).

For example, with the evolution of reptiles, courtship displays became exceedingly complex and ritualized, with the male initially aggressively challenging the female (MacLean, 1990). He will signal her by swishing his tail rapidly back and forth and will aggressively nudge her along her side, even biting her neck if she attempts to run away--neck biting actually being a common courtship display even employed by sharks. Females of some lizard species also perform enticement displays. They will invite courtship by engaging in a form of flirting that entails inclining, arching, or nodding her head nodding, and as is more common among mammals and birds, she may then run away in order to entice the male to pursue. Moreover, once he catches her she may offer token or aggressive resistance--a form of foreplay which is also common among mammals including the human female (Ford and Beach, 1951).

However, in order to display sex specific and other complex social affective behaviors, including those involved in the competition for and solicitation of mates, not only the amygdala and hypothalamus, but the limbic and dorsal striatum evolved accordingly. As noted, the striatum acts as the behest of the amygdala and produces complex social-affective motor behaviors including those involved in signaling dominance, aggression, fear and submission.

Lizard body language includes: 1) challange or territorial displays, 2) submissive and appeasement displays, 3) courtship displays, and 4) "signature" displays which often involve unique modifications that signify a degree of individuality (Maclean, 1990). By contrast, challenge, territorial, submissive, appeasement, and courtship display are highly ritualized and invariably involve head movements. For example, lizards will nod their heads as a form of greeting. However, if a lizard is confronted by an intruder into his territory he will respond with a challenge display. Stereotypically, he will begin doing pushup with his front legs, and may bob his head up to 12 times while simultaneously expanding his throat. If the intruder does not depart, the lizard will run towards him and turn sideways as he approaches. If the intruder still does not depart, the lizard may then lash him with his tail, or will engaging in pushing and shoving. If the intruder still does not depart, they may circle and may clamp their jaws on the others neck of tail, sometimes biting off the tail in the process. The challenge display will cease only when one of the combatants gives an appeasement display which consists of head bowing or by lying low on its tummy--behaviors which stereotypically displayed by many species of mammal. And as is common among non-human and human mammals (Ford & Beach, 1951), if this combat sequence is observed by a female, she may then attach herself to the victor.

The significance and implications of these behaviors are easily identifiable due to the fact that they are produced by a limbic system and striatum which has been inherited by mammals including humans; which is why similar behaviors are also displayed by these species.

However, over the course of evolution the striatum also expanded, and increasingly contributed neurons to the external cortical layers that were slowly enveloping the old brain. In consequence, those cortical areas dorsal and anterior to the striatum also became concerned with affective motor functioning; especially in that they were also in receipt of neurons and axons contributed by the amygdala (as well as the hippocampus and thalamus). Thus, a rudimentary affective-motor cortex began to evolve, a portion of which would become, with the evolution of repto-mamals the anterior cingulate gyrus (MacLean, 1990).

However, because of their extreme importance in affective motor and social-affective behavior, if the striatum or overlying motor (cingulate) cortex are injured, the ability to motorically display affective states or to act on limbic motivational impulses is significantly curtailed and may be abolished.

As noted, in reptiles, the striatum is implicated in affective-motor displays involving the head and extremities. In humans, damage involving the corpus (dorsal) striatum can cause the face to become frozen and emotionless and the legs and arms to become rigid and stiff; e.g. Parkinson's disease. With massive lesions the individual may become catatonic and cease to move (see chapter 16). Similarly, the destruction of the amphibia and reptilian forebrain/striatum will disrupt species specific, and stereotyped social-emotional motor acts, such as dominance displays, or even the desire to eat and they may become catatonic (MacLean, 1990).

With forebrain/striatal destruction, reptiles and amphibians will cease to display or respond to emotional or motivational stimuli, including the presence of food, but instead will simply sit (MacLean, 1990). However, due to the preservation of the brainstem and cerebellum, if an frog with striatal destruction is turned over it will right itself, or if thrown into the water it will swim until reaching a dry surface where it again will simply sit. Indeed, if unmolested it will sit forever in the same spot, failing to demonstrate any desire to explore, eat, or have sex, until finally dying and becoming mummified (MacLean, 1990). As noted, in some respects this is reminiscent of the catatonia and loss of will that occur with massive striatal lesions involving the medial frontal lobes (chapters 16, 19).

Hence, with the evolution of reptiles, and the fully differentiated reptilian striatum, these animals were able to display complex social-emotional signals through body language, including dominance, submission, threat, sexual availability, and so on (MacLean, 1990). Reptiles were therefore more social, intelligent, and physically superior as compared to amphibians and via their expanded limbic system and corpus striatum, could employ complex postures and body language to communicate with rivals and members of the opposite sex.

Forebrain Summary

Hence, in summary, the great expansion of the brain was a direct consequence of the increased importance of the olfactory system, with the brain expanding to accommodate olfactory needs. Much of the forebrain, therefore, is a derivative of the olfactory system which in turn induced the differentiation and reorganization of the amygdala-striatum thus creating an amygdala and striatum and contributing to the evolution of the hippocampus (Gloor, 1997; Stephan, 1983).

It is noteworthy that the original unity of the amygdala-striatum and its eventual separation is also repeated over the course of embryological development--yet another of the almost innumerable examples of ontogeny replicating phylogeny. For example, around the sixth week of fetal development immature neuroblasts migrate in massive numbers from the ventricular lining, and congregate in the more caudal portion of the emerging forebrain, thus forming an arc shaped "striatal ridge" from which the primordial amygdala will emerge (Gilles et al., 1983; Humphrey, 1968). However, approximately one week after the formation of the amygdala, this primordial amygdala-striatum begins to differentiate and balloon outward to create the striatum. That is, both the striatum and amygdala are derived from the arc shaped "striatal ridge," the caudal portion giving rise to the primordial amgydala at about the 6th week of gestation, and the basal portion later giving rise to the primordial striatum which initially overlies and is contiguous with the amygdala (Gilles et al., 1983; Humphrey, 1968). Over the ensuing weeks, these structures are pushed further apart thus again, replicating phylogeny. Moreover, just as olfactory influences are important in the evolutionary differentation of these structures, so to are olfactory influences important in embyology and the formation and development of the forebrain (Joseph, 1998d).

It is also due to the olfactory origins which enabled the forebrain to develop memory and the ability to think before reacting. Hence, in contrast to the brainstem which is not only more "hard wired" but which responds reflexively to proximal stimuli, the forebrain became adapted for analyzing and responding to both proximal and distant stimuli, as conveyed via olfactory cues. These differential sensitivities provided the olfactory-limbic forebrain with an intellectual and nmemonic evolutionary advantage over the midbrain and brainstem in regard to the development of thinking, planning, and memory. That is, since olfactory stimuli tend to arise in the distant environment, this gives the organism more time to analyze these signals before responding. Hence, being the recepient of this distant information, the forebrain was given time to "think", whereas the brainstem in response to tactile, painful stimuli, had to react immediately and reflexively. Moreover, because the source of this chemical/pheromonal information might be far away and hidden, the forebrain had to retain this information in "memory" for long time periods, or for however long it took to approach or get away.

In that the brainstem and the thalamus also relayed sensory data to the forebrain (Butler 1994; Donkelaar, 1990), the forebrain became increasingly specialized for interpreting and associating multiple sensory signals simultaneously, and was able to "think" about what actions to take, and/or store this information in memory so as to "think" about or act on it later. By contrast, the brainstem continued to reflexively act in a stereotyped and unthinking manner. As the hypothalamus is in part an outgrowth and intimately associated with the midbrain, although also part of the limbic system, this diencephalic structure also tends to react reflexively. However, as the hypothalamus is also intimately interconnected with the amygdala, and as these pathways became more robust, the amygdala in turn acquired the ability to influence and exert some degree of control over this more primitive emotional center. Initially, however, the hypothalamus appears to have been predominant, such that creatures such as sharks, although possessing a forebrain that could think, also largely react in a reflexive manner.

The Reptile to Repto-Mammal Neurological Transition

Primordial reptiles split into three lineages, the anapsids which gave rise to modern turtles, synapsids which gave rise to reptomammals and then therapsids, and diapsids which gave rise to dinosaurs, and birds, and present day reptiles.

With the evolution of reptiles, pallial neurons migrated to the dorsal portion of the striatal hemisphere to form the first true albeit simple three layered cortex. However, the ventral pallium remained similar to that of amphibians. Yet other pallial neurons, those medially located, instead began to proliferate and to form large masses of gray matter that began to bulge into the lateral ventricle, thus forming the dorsal ventricular ridge. The dorsal ventricular ridge is homoplastic with the mammalian striatum.

In birds, reptiles, and saurosids, the dorsal ventricular ridge gave rise to the neostriatum and hyperstriatum, and thus a pattern of cerebral organization quite different from mammals (Ariens Kappers et al., 1936; Parent & Olivier, 1970). That is, whereas the pallium of birds and reptiles developed inward (i.e. outside in) so as to form the dorsal ventricular ridge, the pallium of repto-mammals, therapsids, and mammals, expanded from inside out, to form allocortex, then mesocortex and then neocortex, with primitive and complex modern day mammals, e.g. marsupials, placentals, displaying all three cortical patterns; i.e. within the limbic system, cingulate gyrus, medial and uncal temporal lobe.


Reptiles evolved multi-regionally, a variety of species appearing on almost every continent. However, around 250 million years ago, and corresponding with major climatic changes, a more advanced species of reptile emerged, the repto-mammals (Brink, 1956; Broom, 1932, Crompton & Jenkins, 1973; Paul, 2010; Romer, 1966). Although more reptile than mammal, the repto-mammals represented a tremendous leap in intellectual and physical prowess. For example, the repto-mammalian brain now included an enlarged basal ganglia and corpus and limbic striatum, whereas the new three layered cortical area devoted to affective motor functioning, added a new layer to become a rudimentary anterior cingulate gyrus (Joseph, 1993; Maclean, 1990). Coupled with the development of a mammal-like striatum, the emergence of the anterior cingulate provided these creatures with the capacity to engage in complex social-emotional behaviors, to vocalize a variety of social-emotional affective states, and to display prolonged maternal care (Joseph, 1993; MacLean, 1990).

The emergence of these creatures represented a giant leap in physio-technological and neurological capability. They dwarfed all previous creatures in complexity, intelligence and physical prowess for important physical alterations occurred not just in their brains but in their body structure, stance, gait, and limb development (Colbert, 1980; Jarvik, 1980; Jerison, 1973; Romer, 1970). For example, the legs were now located beneath rather than alongside the body which enabled them to run long distances without compressing the chest and lung which allowed them to simultaneously breath while chasing prey. Reptiles must stop in order to breath since their legs, situated alongside their body and chest cavity, constrict the expansion of the lungs as they run.

The repto-mammals also developed a secondary bony palate which enabled them to chew food and to simultaneously breathe without danger of choking to death. Reptiles must cease to breathe in order to swallow large chunks of their food.

Another advantage occurred in regard to thermoregulation. Repto-mammals became warm blooded and the hypothalamus and limbic system evolved a means of regulating body temperature internally. Moreover, whereas lizards, frogs, fish, etc., have only scales, the therapsids evolved a coat of fur, as well as sweat glands that released excessive internal heat. By contrast reptiles must sun themselves to gain heat, or sit in the shade to cool off, and are thus forced to rely on behavioral thermoregulation. For example, if a reptile fails to move from a cold to a warm location (or vice versa) their body temperature soon approaches that of the external environment.

In addition, therapsids appear to have evolved a "double pump" heart and the formation of a interventricular septum which induces a total separation of deoxygenated and oxygenated blood.energy. The acquisition of these metabolic capabilities, also increased aerobic metabolic power which led to the development of endothermy. Endothermy is the capacity to increase the production of endogenous metabolic. Hence, whereas reptiles and amphibians are extotherms, therapsids, and presumably repto-mammals became endotherms.

Thus therapsids and eventually mammals, gained the capacity to sustain physical activity at high levels as they now had increased tenfold their ability to engage in aerobic oxidative metabolism. Indeed, metabolic rates are up to 10 times higher in endotherms vs ectotherms, which enables endotherms to engage in prolonged energy consuming activities, and when necessary, can still increase yet further their activities such as speed of running, anaerobically and aerobically. Reptiles are capable of engaging in only short bursts of activity. However, they must quickly slow and stop, and due to the buildup of lactic acid and the loss of high energy phosphate, recovery can take hours such that they slow and then become motionless.

Thus the initial evolution of the repto-mammals coincided with and resulted in major biological alterations involving cranial and post-cranial skeletal structure, mammillary development, thermo-regulation, sexual reproduction, and hypothalamic function and structure (Bakker, 1971; Brink, 1956; Broom, 1932, Crompton & Jenkins, 1973; Duvall, 1986; Joseph, 1993; Maclean, 1990; Paul, 2010; Quiroga, 1980; Romer, 1966). Hence, the Repto-mammals were now able to roam and explore vast new territories, and in so doing they proliferated and a tremendous diversity of forms were unleashed upon the planet (Bakke, 1971; Brink, 1956; Crompton & Jenkins, 1973; Crompton, et al. 1979; Duvall, 1990; Maglio, 1978; Romer, 1966; Quiroga, 1979). Indeed, the remains of repto-mammals have been found on every continent including Antarctica. They not only assumed dominion over the Earth, but ruled over even the first tiny dinosaurs (the theocondants), who appeared around 225 million years ago.

However, the Earth was apparently struck by two giant meteors around 250 million and 225 million years B.P., an event which ended the dominion of the repto-mammals and which resulted in a mass extinction of life on land and in the sea (Raup, 1991; Stanley & Yang 1994). Since larger creatures (i.e. the repto-mammals) were more severely effected, this event led to the ascendance of the (initially very small) dinosaurs who soon grew to huge sizes.

This forced the remaining and now much smaller species of repto-mammals to adapt to a whole new way of living, including nighttime foraging. This new lifestyle, however, resulted in improved auditory, and olfactory-pheromonal functional capacities but diminished the importance of vision.

Over the next 100 million years due to their new lifestyle and the competitive pressure and presence of the dinosaurs, the repto-mammals became smarter, and their brains became larger and more complex, such that they became increasingly mammalian. Repto-mammals thus became therapsids.

There were two main suborders of therapsids, the Theriodontia (who were carnivores) and the Anomodontia (which were herbivores). Some scientists believe that true mammals descended from Theriodontias, whereas others suggest that carnivores gave rise to carnivores and herbivores to herbivores including modern day monotremes.

The lines leading from repto-mammals and therapsids to monotremes and marsupials mammals, must have split off well over 150 million years ago, giving rise to distinct marsupials and monotremes by around 100 million years ago, and from separate branches, to plancentals. Placentals included the first insectivores, as well as credonta, carnvoria, and the first primitive primates (Novacek, 1992).

Like reptiles, monotremes (duck-billed platypus and spiny enchidnas) lay eggs, and like birds they have evolved horny toothless beaks. Unlike modern mammals such as carnivors and primates, the monotreme brain consists of only 3 or 4 visual areas, compared with over 20 for carnivores and primates.

However, within that branch or intermediate mammals referred to as marsupials, there are numerous intermediate mammalian representatives, that markedly resemble their more advanced plancental cousins; e.g. gliders which resemble flying squirrels.

Placentals are distinguished by have a placenta which enables a mother and her fetus to exchange gasses and nutrients. Placental mammals are obviously more advanced as is also indicated by the fact that they are the dominant mammalian life form, comprising over 20 orders.

In any case, the therapsids became increasingly mammal like in regard to their skull, teeth, the formation of a middle ear, and in regard to their locomotor skeleton. For example, in contrast to reptiles and amphibians, the elbows were now directed backward and the knees forward which greatly improved their ability to run and manipulate their limbs.

However, whereas the Theriodontias were likely giving live birth to infants that required prolonged maternal care, the hervivorous therapsids appear to have been egg layers. For example, monotremes appear to be the direct descendants of the Theriodontias and they too are egg layers. These primitive modern mammals include the anteaters and the duck billed platypus. Moreover, like therapsids, they suckle their young via modified sweat glands which secrete milk and which correspond to the mammarly glands of of other mammals. The monotremes, in fact, appear in the fossil record as far back as the earliest periods of the Pleistocene.

Like modern day mammals, including monotremes, therapsids engaged in prolonged maternal care, and the young lived with their mother until they became juveniles. These adaptions in turn appear to have been made possible via major alterations in the brain, as well as the middle ear, which, in repto-mammals was still part of the jaw. Therapsids evolved the malleus and incus which, coupled with other changes, enabled them to perceive a variety of frequencies. Moreover, the five layered anterior cingulate appears to have fully emerged, which, when coupled with advances in the striatum, enabled these creatures to employ gestures and posturing as well as produce a variety of complex emotional sounds in order to communicate. Indeed, it was likely the evolution of the anterior cingulate, coupled with the ability to produce complex sounds (such as the infant's separation cry) promoted prolonged child care as well as the development of language and the family (Joseph, 1993; MacLean, 1990).


With the evolution of repto-mammals, over 250 million years ago, and then therapsids 200 to 150 million years ago (e.g. Probainognathus from the triassic followed by Periptychus from the Paleocene), the olfactory bulb greatly expanded as did the amygdala-hippocampus-containing piriform lobe (Quiroga, 1980; Ulinksi, 1990) which came to dominate and form the largest structure (or lobe) of the forebrain. Even in primitive mammals, the piriform lobe and the other primary olfactory structures, forms the largest portion of the hemisphere including much of the lateral surface.

With the evolution of repto-mammals the medial portions of the brain still contained the dorsal medial hippocampus which in turn became slowly transformed so as to analyze and process the increased level of sensory input being received. Like the amygdala the hippocampus was also being pushed and stretched in different directions, the medial portions (through which interconnections with the hypothalamus were maintained) becoming tissue thin, and the ventral aspects becoming enlongated. However, in this regard, the hippocampus had already begun to contribute to the evolution not only of the medial walls of the hemisphere, but to the emergence of the septum pelucidum and thus the septal nuclei which was simultaneously emerging and being yanked out of the hypothalamus by the departing hippocampus.

Over the ensuing 100 million years, and with the evolution of the therapsids, the dorsal-medial three layered allocortex was becoming four then five layered mesocortex, thus forming what would become the cingulate gyrus (MacLean, 1990). The cingulate gyrus not only crowned the forebrain, but was a crowning achievement in the development of complex social emotional relationships, including long-term maternal behavior, and what would eventually become the "family" and modern human speech.


The most prominent nuclei of the midbrain include the superior (visual) and inferior (auditory) colliculi. These structures are concerned with analyzing visual and auditory signals, such as sudden movements or transient sounds, and can orient the head and body toward the source of stimulation (via it's extensive interconnections with the brainstem reticular formation and motor nuclei). Via interconnections with the amygdala and striatum, these auditory and visual signals could also be analyzed in regard to emotional significance and appropriate action could then be initiated.

As noted, it is the striatum which guides and controls affective-motor behaviors (e.g. kicking, flailing, biting, running), in response to amygdaloid input. However, the amygdala not only perceives emotional stimuli and stimulates appropriate affective-motor behaviors, but it can also produce complex social-emotional vocalizations via connections with the striatum as well as the midbrain periaqueductal gray.

When repto-mammals evolved, the amygdala, striatum, as well as the hippocampus contributed to the evolution of the affective-motor cortical area that was to become the five layered mesocortical, anterior cingulate. Over the course of evolution, the anterior cingulate expanded and developed five layers, three of which were sandwiched between layers I and V which had been originally contributed by the midbrain. As the anterior cingulate evolved, it thus became increasingly concerned with affective motor behavior, including the production of emotional vocalizations which were emitted in concert with the amygdala and via interconnections with the midbrain periaqueductal gray.

The evolution of the cingulate gyrus coincided with the emergence of the therapsids and thus ushered in a stage in evolution where sound came to serve as a means of purposeful and complex communication, such as occurs not only between potential mates, sexual competitors, or predator and prey, but between mother and infant (Joseph, 1993, 1999b; Maclean, 1990). In fact, the most recently evolved five layered transitional limbic cortex, the (anterior) cingulate gyrus, is exceedingly vocal, and can produce sounds that do not correlate with mood, indicating considerable flexibility and plasticity within this structure (Jurgens & Muller-Preuss, 1977). The cingulate is not only capable of producing a complex medley of emotional sounds, but the separation cry, which is similar if not identical to that produced by an infant (MacLean, 1990; Robinson, 1967). It is these particular sounds which promote intimate maternal behavior and which promote the establishment of emotional attachments (Joseph, 1999b).

In fact, it is with the evolution of the repto-mammals and therapsids that prolonged maternal care became the norm. For example, the scent glands became mammilary glands; i.e. the maternal nipple, such that the capacity to nurse came into being (Duvall, 1986) whereas the young would live with their mothers until they reached the juvenile stage. As these events corresponded to the evolution of the anterior cingulate, and as this structure promotes maternal behavior and attachment, it thus appears that evolution of the cingulate promoted the development of the family.

By contrast, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in humans and lower mammals, anterior cingulate destruction can result in a loss of maternal responsiveness and can significantly impair if not abolish the production emotional-prosodic vocalizations thus resulting in mutism (Barris & Schuman, 1953; Kennard, 1955; Laplane et al. 1981; Smith, 1944; Tow & Whitty, 1953). In primates maternal behavior is also abolished and the majority of infants whose mothers have suffered anterior cingulate destruction, soon die from lack of care. In fact, mother may walk upon their infants as if they were inanimate objects; that is, behavior becomes reptilian.

The Limbic System and the Evolution of Emotional Attachment

Sharks, teleosts, amphibians, and reptiles (although lacking a cingulate gyrus) possess a limbic system, consisting of an amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and septal nuclei. It is these limbic nuclei which enable a group of fish to congregate and "school", and which makes it possible for reptiles to form territories which include an alpha female, several sub-females, and a few juveniles (Joseph, 1993; Maclean, 1990). It is also these structures which enable some of these creatures to produce an exceedingly limited repertoire emotional sounds, such as those indicating pleasure or distress, including shrieks and cries of alarm.

It is noteworthy, however, that vocalizations triggered by excitation of the amygdala, hypothalamus, or septal nuclei are usually accompanied by appropriate, and mood congruent behaviors (Gloor, 1960; Jurgens, 1990; Robinson, 1967; Ursin & Kaada, 1960). In contrast, the cingulate gyrus is capable of considerable emotional flexibility and can trigger a variety of vocalizations that do not correspond to mood, including, for example, the production of sounds or behaviors that may fool a predator into thinking a potential prey is injured, when in fact it is a mother pretending to be disabled so as to distract a predator from her young. Again, the anterior cingulate is directly implicated in the generation of long term emotional attachments, in particular those between a mother and her young.

By contrast, sharks, bony fish, amphibians and most but not all reptiles show little or no maternal care and will greedily cannibalize their infants who in turn must hide from their parents, in order to avoid being eaten (MacLean, 1990). And yet, although lacking a cingulate gyrus, fish will school, and reptiles may form territories that include an alpha male, a female, and several juveniles. These behaviors, however, are a function of the amygdala which promotes group but not individual attachments (chapters 13,15,28).

Hence, in contrast to reptiles and amphibians, the repto-mammals and therapsids were equipped with recently evolved cingulate cortex, and not only lived in packs and social groups, but formed long term individual attachments between a mother and her young (Bakker, 1971; Brink, 1956; Crompton & Jenkins, 1973; Duvall, 1986; Paul, 2010; Romer, 1966). Being equipped with an amygdala, septal nucleus, as well as a cingulate gyrus, social and emotional relationships therefore became long term.

It is these same limbic nuclei which enable human infants to initially indiscriminately seek social and physical contact, and to then increasing display fear of strangers and to form specific attachments -events which correspond with the maturation of the amygdala followed by the septal nuclei and the cingulate gyrus (see chapters 15, 28). It is also the interaction and maturation of these limbic system structures which provide the neurological foundations not only for affective speech, but those neocortical substrates which would eventually give rise to modern human language.

The Piriform & Entorhinal Cortex

With the evolution and growth of cingulate cortex, the hippocampus was further dislodged and became elongated and stretched arc-wise, thereby forming dorsal-medial and ventral components. Pushing and dragging the emerging entorhinal cortex before and after it, the ventral most aspect of the hippocampus also carried with it the posterior portion of the piriform lobe which began to collide with the amygdala and the anterior portion of the piriform lobe; the collision taking place at the junction of the uncus.

As based on endocasts and comparisons to modern "living fossils" it appears that in response to increased olfactory, visual, and auditory input (around 150 million years ago) that the hippocampal half of the piriform lobe continued to sprout four to five layered mesocortex giving rise to the posterior cingulate, as well as what would become the six to seven layered entorhinal cortex--the "gateway to the hippocampus." The entorhinal cortex (a major memory and memory relay center) was carried with the hippocampus as it was pushed anterior-ventrally along with the amygdala (that is, due to continued expansion of the brain).

Likewise, it appears that the amygdala began to litterally spin out mesocortex which began to overlay portions of the allocortex. In consequence, over the ensuing 50 million years, that is by 100,000 B.P., the brain consisted not only of allocortex and mesocortex, but a combination of the two, thereby creating the piriform lobe and the six to seven layered entorhinal cortex and the beginning of a neocortical shroud that would become the temporal and orbital frontal lobes.


For much of neurological evolution, the olfactory-amygdala- hippocampus dominated forebrain functioning--as is evident from the size of the piriform lobe. Moreover, for much of early mammalian evolution, the olfactory-forebrain continued to dominate cerebral and cognitive functioning (Gloor, 1997; Haberly 1990). According to Gloor (1997, p. 54), "the earliest development in mammalian brain evolution seems to have been a growth spurt of olfactory telencephalon. The isocortex in these forms sat like a small cap on top of a very large olfactory telencephalon."

Hence, by 100,000 years ago, the piriform lobe and cingulate gyrus appear to have been capped by a small nub of neocortex (Quiroga, 1980). Over the next fifty million years this neocortical cap soon became a shroud and enveloped the hemispheres of the telencephalon and the right and left piriform lobe, thus forming a very rudimentary temporal lobe--a structure which consists of allocortex, mesocortex, entorhinal cortex, and neocortex and which contains the amygdala and hippocampus, the core components of the limbic system.

Over the course of later mammalian evolution and as these creatures gained complete dominion over much of the planet, the neocortex began to expand at a rapid rate (Stephan & Andy, 1977). In fact, when comparing the brains of "living fossils" such as insectivores with that of humans, it appears that the neocortex expanded by a factor of 156 (even when taking into account differences in body size), whereas allocortex and mesocortex and all associated olfactory-limbic structures developed at a much reduced rate such that the hippocampus and septum are only 4 times larger and the amygdala is 6 times larger when comparing humans to insectivores, whereas the olfactory bulb is 40 times smaller (Stephan & Andy, 1969; Stephan, 1983). Indeed, not only does the olfactory bulb shrink with the evolution of humans, but the vomeronasal system has become vestigial.

Specifically, during the end of the therapsid rein, some 150-100 million years ago, and during the therapsid mammalian transition, the brain begins to resemble that of a opossum or hedghog-- as is evident based on endoasts of later appearing therapsids, e.g. Phenocodus. Thus the lissencephalic surface area of the brain consisted of allocortex, mesocortex, entorhinal cortex, and neocortex. However, in the opossum, the piriform lobe continues to make up almost two thirds of the hemisphere, and in insectivores, half of the hemisphere consists of olfactory structures (Herrick, 1925; Quiroga, 1980; Stephan & Andy, 1977;). Hence, with the emergence of mammals, the cerebrum was still dominated by the olfactory system and the three and five layered allocortex and mesocortex, coupled with an expanding entorhinal cortex and a small nubin of neocortex.

As noted, the hippocampus was initially dominated by visual input, which later became supplanted by olfactory input. Nevertheless, this structure remained visually responsive and continued to perform visual-related functions which were superimposed with that of the olfactory system. That is, the hippocampus created visual place maps which became visual-olfactory maps that enabled animals to navigate through their environment as well as remember why they were moving about in the first place. However, with the reduction in the importance of olfactory input and the ascendance of visual sensation, the hippocampus and its overlying shroud of entorhinal cortex became dominated by the visual modality (Gloor, 1997). In fact, with the evolution of mammals, the entorhinal cortex formed the visually responsive "occipital" pole of the hemisphere.

As the brain began to rapidly expand, the hippocampus also began to expand caudally, medially, and laterally, thus becoming a dorsal and ventral hippocampus (bordered caudally by the evolving entorhinal cortex) thus forming the caudal portion of the piriform lobe. As it and the entorhinal cortex were pushed anterior-ventrally, they not only contributed to the evolution of the posterior cingulate, septal nucleus, and medial walls of the hemisphere, but to the evolution of the visually responsive occipital neocortex as well as the temporal lobe (Herrick, 1925; Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990ab; Quiroga, 1980; Stephan & Andy, 1977). Likewise, the amygdala, as it expanded and separated from the striatum, began to form the anterior portion of the piriform lobe, and the anterior cingulate (via the amygdala-striatum) as well as the temporal lobe.

Specifically, with the evolution of mammals and then primates, and due to the posterior-caudal trajectory of growth of the hippocampus and amygdala, including the piriform lobe and entorhinal cortex, these structures gave rise to and become enmeshed within the temporal lobe (Herrick, 1925; Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990ab; Quiroga, 1980; Stephan & Andy, 1977; Ulinksi, 1990). In addition, the entorhinal "occipital" lobe was pushed ventrally and forward, such that the occipital lobe came to be completely occupied by neocortex--six to seven layered neocortex which appears to have been "secreted" by the departing seven to eight layered entorhinal cortex. Moreover, neocortex followed the entorhinal cortex as it was pushed anteriorally ventrally thus forming the neocortical surface of the temporal lobe.

Likewise, the amygdala also contributes to the evolution of neocortex, such that anterior folds of neocortex coalesces with the posterior folds, and in the process creates distinct cytoarchitectural areas that are specialized to process different forms of information, i.e. auditory (amygala) vs visual (hippocampus). That is, the amygdala litterally began to rotate and spin over the course of evolution, giving rise to outflowing streams of increasingly cortical tissue--much like lava erupting from a volcano. Thus the amygdala gave rise to allocortex which formed part of the uncal foundation of the temporal lobe, over which flowed mesocortex, and then lastly neocortex, which then began to flow laterally, medially, and anteriorally, creating auditory cortex. The neocortex created by the amygdala was joined by those visually responsive neocortical streams flowing from the posterior portions of the brain, in the wake of the entorhinal cortex and the underlying hippocampus which also pushed the amygdala before them. In consequence, the "head" of the hippocampus also came to envelop part of the amygdala at the junction known as the uncus (Gloor, 1997).

The uncus (hook) is a structure almost unique to humans, and it is unique in that it is comprised of allocortex, mesocortex, entorhinal cortex, and includes portions of the amygdala and hippocampus. It is at the junction of the uncus where the amygdaloid gray and the entorhinal/hippocampus came to butt together. Hence, the periamygdaloid portion of the uncus represents the cortico-amygdala transition area which acts as a boundary against which abutts the entorhinal mesocortex.

Hence, whereas the evolution of the five layered mesocortical cingulate gyrus is one of the major distinguishing features of the evolution of the repto-mammalian brain, the creation of neocortex and in particular the temporal and occipital lobes, are the major distinguishing features heralding the transformation of therapsids into mammals and mammals into primates.


The demise of the dinosaurs, enabled mammals to gain dominion over the day as well as the night. And it was only during the ensuing evolution of primates, monkeys and apes in particular, that the olfactory dominance came to be challenged and reduced and supplanted by visual and auditory input which became dominant. Likewise, olfactory input into the hippocampus was almost completely eliminated, being directed instead to the entorhinal cortex. Hence, the hippocampus also became dominated by visual input (and less so auditory input).

Whereas olfaction was the driving force that transformed the reptilian brain into a repto-mammal and then a therapsid brain equipped with cerebral hemispheres (Herrick, 1925; Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990ab; Quiroga, 1980; Stephan & Andy, 1977; Ulinksi, 1990), it is with the emergence of auditory and visual functioning as the dominant sensory modalities, that provided the impetus for the great expansion and evolution of the temporal lobe. However, although temporal lobe structures are apparent in some mammals, such as dogs and wolves, only primates possess a true temporal lobe; a consequence of the expansion of the visual system and, to a lesser extent, an expansion of the auditory system.

Visual processing assumed increased importance only with the demise of the dinosaurs. Thus primates were able to emerge from the underbrush and the darkness of night, and by 55 million years ago, during the early Eocene, at least some orders of primates (e.g. Tetonius) had already evolved a large occipital, as well as an emerging temporal lobes (Radinksy, 1967, 1970)--brains which resemble those of modern day prosimians such as the Galago, as well as modern day carnivores such as wolves and dogs.

With the evolution and expansion of the temporal lobe and the auditory and visual areas, the hippocampus also expanded and acquired the capability of regulating cortical arousal and information processing--a capability which it then began to relinquish once the frontal lobe began to expand. That is, the expansion of the frontal lobe lagged behind that of the temporal lobe (see chapter 6).

As we ascend from "primitive" mammals (as represented by opossums, insectivores and hedgehogs) the poorly differentiated thalamus, and the diffusely (albeit crudly topographically) organized and overlapping primary sensory and motor areas, and the exceedingly small nub of association cortex (Diamond & Hall, 1969; Kaas et al., 1970; Ulinksi, 1990), expands and becomes increasingly differentiated, segregated and distinct, with numerous association areas sprouting throughout the neocortical surface of the hemispheres, and with distinct thalamic and neocortical areas becoming specialized to process different aspects of auditory, somesthetic, and visual information. Thus with mammals, the isocortex is dominated by detailed sensory maps of external reality, whereas in reptiles and amphibians, detail is provided only by the midbrain tectum.

In primitive mammals, piriform lobe (within which is partly contained the amygdala and hippocampus) and the other primary olfactory structures, form the largest portion of the hemisphere including much of the lateral surface. However, over the course of primate evolution, the expanding neocortex wraps itself around and also erupts from the piriform lobe which in turn becomes.

incorporated into the temporal lobe thereby forming the uncus (Herrick, 1925; Stephan & Andy, 1977). Morphologically, the mammalian including the human temporal lobe is the most heterogenous of all the lobes, particularly in that it contains a significant amount of allocortex (Vogt & Vogt, 1919); i.e. the 3 layered mesial and basal areas of the hemispheres which forms the hippocampal and piriform, periamygdaloid cortices.

Allocortex is thinner than neocortex and consists of 3 layers, and the large pyramidal cells of the second alocortex layer are more densely packed together as compared to any of the 6 to 7 neocortical layers. Whereas neocortical layers alternate between granular and pyramidal cells, allocortex is predominantly pyramidal cells.

Hence, within the temporal lobe, there is also a transition from allocortex to mesocortex, to isocortex (neocortex) with the medially located entorhinal cortex consisting of 7 to 8 layers. The medial mesocortex includes the entorhinal and posterior parahippocampal cortex (the parahippocampal gyrus) and extends from the anterior uncal regions in a belt-like fashion, extending through the dorsal surface of the temporal lobe, enters the insula, where it swings around and continues into the orbital frontal region.


Over the course of evolutionary metamorphosis, the olfactory forebrain, including the amygdala, septal nuclei, hippocampus, and striatum, became more complex and began developing additional layers of nerve cells which in turn contributed to the expansion of the forebrain/telencephalon. For example, as the medial amygdala expanded it became increasingly cortical thus forming the uncus of what would become the temporal lobe and then later contributed to the evolution of the auditory neocortex. Indeed, the amygdala receives auditory stimuli from the medial geniculate and the inferior colliculus and in lower mammals is exceedingly responsive to auditory input, whereas the human amygdala is responsive to complex auditory-affective stimuli including words and sentences (Halgren, 1992; Heit, et al. 2010). If electrically stimulated, patients report hearing voices which tend to be experienced as emotionally significant (Gloor, Olivier, & Quesney, 1981).

Hence, over the course of evolution, the amygdala continued to expand, contributing pyramidal neurons which sandwiched themselves between what would later become layers I and VII of the neocortex, and in so doing also contributed to the evolution of the auditory neocortex with which it remains extensively interconnected via the inferior arcuate fasciculus. In fact, immediately beneath and buttressing the auditory neocortex is a thick band of amygdala-cortex, the claustrum. Over the course of evolution the claustrum apparently split off from the amygdala due to the expansion of the temporal lobe and the passage of additional axons coursing throughout the white matter (Gilles et al., 1983). Nevertheless, the claustrum maintains rich interconnections with the superior auditory cortex as well as the amygdala (Gilles et al., 1983). However, the amygdala is not only responsive to auditory input, but is one of the most vocally responsive structures of the brain (Jurgens, 1990, 1992; Robinson, 1967, 1972) as it is directly connected with the midbrain periaqueductal gray, and the anterior cingulate--a structure whose evolution was also promoted by the amygdala.

Hippocampal Contributions to the Neocortical Evolution

Over the course of vertebrate evolution and with the transition from amphibian to mammal, the medially situated septal nuclei and hippocampus contributed to the development of the cingulate gyrus, including the medial walls of the neocortex, with the hippocampus promoting the evolution of what would eventually become the posterior cingulate, and the medial parietal, occipital and temporal lobes (Herrick, 1925; Nieuwenhuys & Meek, 1990ab; Quiroga, 1980; Stephan & Andy, 1977).

Because the hippocampus was predominantly concerned with visual stimuli, the parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes became similarly organized. Moreover, because the hippocampus was also concerned with memory, the temporal lobe became similarly organized. And, as the hippocampus was also concerned with mapping the location of objects including one's body in visual space, the parietal lobe became similarly organized.

Cingulate Contributions to Neocortical Evolution

As per the evolution of the anterior cingulate, yet another contributor to its evolution was the striatum. In addition, both the cingulate and the striatum promoted the evolution of the frontal and parietal neocortex. For example, the anterior cingulate, being in part, motor cortex, appears to have given rise to the medial frontal motor areas (Sanides 1964), and that over the course of evolution, it continued to expand upward and then laterally thus forming the superior and the lateral frontal motor areas, including Broca's speech area in the left frontal lobe and the emotional melodic speech area in the right frontal lobe--both of which remain extensively interconnected with the anterior cingulate.

Midbrain Contributions to Neocortical Evolution

Yet other contributors to the evolution of the neocortex include the thalamus and the midibrain. For example, the thalamus is richly interconnected with and appears to have donated neurons to layer IV. However, it appears that the midbrain may well have provided much of the foundation for the neocortex by providing layers I and VII (also referred to as VIb). Indeed, layer I generally lacks neurons, and is phylogenetically old in structure and composition and has a similar organization among all vertebrates except fish (Marin-Padilla 2010a).

As noted, layers I and VII (VIb) appear to exert an attractive influence on migrating neurons during embryological development, which sandwich themselves between these layers thus forming layers II through VI. Hence, over the course evolution, as various forebrain structures expanded and/or became increasingly cortical, they too contributed neurons that sandwiched themselves between these layers--an evolutionary process which, being under genetic control, is now accomplished during embryological development.

For example, layer 1 appears to maintain an intimate relationship with the reticular activating system (Marin-Padilla 2010a), as well as the norepinephrine (NE) transmitter system, perhaps acting as their most distal component. NE, however, promotes neural plasticity and growth, whereas the reticular activity system is excitatory. In this regard, layer 1 may provide a low threshold background of excitation and growth promoting influence which acts to attract migrating neurons. Upon arriving, these neurons penetrate layer VII in order to reach layer I, with each successive wave forming successive layers II through VI, thereby creating a 7 layered neocortex.


Over the course of evolution, the transition form allocortex to neocortex is rather gradual--and this is also reflected in the modern temporal lobe which is belted by a dysgranular intermediate cortex, variably referred to as "transitional," "paralimbic cortex," "paleocortex" and "mesocortex." The cingulate, for example, consists of "mesocortex," whereas the entorhinal cortex is both allocortex (3 layers) and mesocortex (4 to 5 layers) and thus consists of 7 to 8 layers. The unique 7 to 8 layered organization of the entorhinal cortex probably reflects its exceptional status as an assimilation cortex that receives, integrates and relays information from the association areas to the hippocampus and back again (Gloor, 1997).

Hence, whereas the entorhinal cortex consists of 7 to 8 layers, the neocortex, consists of six to seven layers. The thickness of these layers, as well as the size of their neurons, and thus of the neocortex, also varies depending on brain region, ranging in thickness from 4.5 mm to 1.3 mm. Moreover, the neocortex is organized in columns which also vary in thickness and the size of their neurons. In fact, the columnar organization of the neocortex also likely played a significant role in the evolution of the neocortex (Rakic, 1995). That is, since there are numerous duplicate families of genes, most of which are silent, the activation of those "silent" (intronic) genes associated with the columnar organization of the brain could thus produce additional columns thus expanding the surface area of the neocortex. However, in this regard, as duplicate genes also exist for neurons and the laminar organization of the brain, the activation of these silent genes may also have contributed to the evolution of the neocortex, by expanding what had been three and five layered allocortex and mesocortex, into six to seven layered neocortex.

The first rudimentary forms of two to three layered cortex appears with the evolution of the lobed finned fish, and appears to have been derived from phylogenetically old, midbrain-like tissue. Over the course of evolution, these two to three layers became pushed apart such that a definite third cortical layer appeared (associated with the evolution of reptiles (Haberly 1990). In general, three layered cortex is referred to as archicortex, whereas the four to five layered cortex is referred to as mesocortex, and the six to seven layered cortex is referred to as neocortex.

Over the course of neocortical evolution, the neocortex not only expanded in thickness, adding additional layers, but it became more extensive, growing medially, laterally, caudally, and anteriorally, thus forming a smooth (lissencephalic) neocortical shroud that was grossly divisible into diffusely organized areas concerned with motor, visual, somatosensory, and auditory input (Sanides, 1970; Ulinski, 1990). Some scientists have argued that the primary motor and the primary receiving areas may have been the last neocortical areas to evolve (Sanides, 1970).

Specifically, Sanides (1970) argues that the neocortical association areas of mammals corresponds to the limbic cortex of ancestral mammals, e.g., therapsids, and that the primary sensory and motor areas are the most recent evolutionary acquisition (Sanides, 1970). This theory is based in part of the fact that primary areas are the most heavily specialized and are almost the more elaborating developed and differentiated, whereas association areas are not as well differentiated or stratified, whereas the association areas of insectivores and monotremes is even less so. However, the problem with this theory is that monotremes, marsupials, and all other mammals possess primary receiving areas, and which resemble the primary areas of primates in regard to physiology and connectivity, and especially in regard to the intrinsic circuitry of cell columns and their cellular makeup. These features in general do not vary between species (Haug, 2007), even in regard to metabolic activity, though there are differences in the patterns of neurotransmitter innervation (Glezer et al., 1993; Hof, et al., 1992). For example, the motor areas of primates are densely innervated by DA, whereas the same is not true in regard to rats.

Other argues that the primary receiving areas and primary motor areas were the first to evolve (see Allman, 1990), and that over the course of evolution, as additional neurons and columns were generated, the primary areas began to expand and became functionally reorganized thereby forming the secondary association areas, and then the assimilation areas.

In either case, it is clear that the neocortex did expand, and it is also evident that the assimilation areas located in the anterior frontal, inferior temporal, and inferior parietal lobe, were also the last to evolve and have attained their greatest degree of development in the human brain. Indeed, the frontal lobes have expanded by almost a third over the course of the last 5 million years whereas the angular gyrus of the inferior parietal lobe probably did not fully emerge until around 50 thousand years ago (Joseph, 1999e).

As noted, in part this expansion of the neocortex appears to be due in part, to the duplication of neocortical columns and their neurons. As additional and duplicate columns were fashioned, the neocortex expanded. Since there are innumerable duplicate and uncoded copies of those genes and nucleotide sequence segments which code for the generation of these columns and their neurons (and in fact all body parts), the generation of additional columns could be accomplished quite easily once these uncoded gene segments were activated.

In addition, and as argued by Rakic (1995, p. 84) "the enlargement of existing or introduction of new cytoarchitectonic areas in evolution could occur... through... the modification of the rate and cessation of cell proliferation during" embryonic brain development. That is, since migrating neuroblasts are generated in the ventricular and subventricular zones, additional neurons can be produced if the rate of cell proliferation is increased, thereby expanding the neocortex through the additional neurons and thus additional cell columns. Again, this can be accomplished through the activation of just a few duplicate (albeit uncoded) nucleotide sequence segments that contain the necessary information for the generation of these neurons and columns.


What would become the neocortex may have begun to evolve during the early stages of therapsid evolution, becoming a licencephalic neocortical shroud once the first true mammals evolved, over 100 million years ago. However, with the evolution of mammals, the neocortex continued to undergo evolutionary metamorphosis and became topograpically organized to process visual, auditory, and tactile input (Allman, 1990). The neocortex then funneled this highly processed information back to the limbic system as well as the thalamus and brainstem, creating, therefore, extensive interacting feedback loops.

Presumably by 100 million years ago, convolutions and gyri began to form (at least in some mammals) as the neocortex began to fold up and under itself due to the limited amount of available space within the skull. The neocortex became increasingly topographically and locally organized into primary and association sensory receiving and motor expressive areas; a pattern that has since become standard among all subsequent mammalian species. Hence, the posterior regions of the hemispheres are primarily concerned with sensory perception, analysis, and association, whereas the frontal areas are concerned with motor functioning and sensory integration, regardless of species.

Once the primary and association areas had evolved, it provided the mammals with a tremendously advanced capability to engage in multi-modal sensory analysis and information storage and thus the cognitive abilities to outthink their rivals including those "terrible lizards" the dinosaurs. In fact, by 70 million years ago, mammals were slowly gaining dominion over the planet, and throughout the world, dinosaurs were in decline. Hence, when the planet was struck by a huge meteor near the Gulf of Mexico some 65 million years ago (Alvarez, 1986; Alvarez & Asaro, 1990; Hildebrand, 1991; Raup, 1991), thus killing off almost all large sized and cold blooded land animals, the more intelligent (but smaller sized) mammals emerged comparatively unscathed whereas the remaining (smaller) and much dumber dinosaurs were simply unable to compete and were completely eradicated from the face of the planet. The age of mammals had begun, and soon humans would come to rule the Earth.

Copyright: 1996, 2000, 2010, 2018 - Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.