Comparative analysis reveals distinctive epigenetic features of the human cerebellum

Elaine E. Guevara, William D. Hopkins, Patrick R. Hof, John J. Ely, Brenda J. Bradley, Chet C. Sherwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Identifying the molecular underpinnings of the neural specializations that underlie human cognitive and behavioral traits has long been of considerable interest. Much research on human-specific changes in gene expression and epigenetic marks has focused on the prefrontal cortex, a brain structure distinguished by its role in executive functions. The cerebellum shows expansion in great apes and is gaining increasing attention for its role in motor skills and cognitive processing, including language. However, relatively few molecular studies of the cerebellum in a comparative evolutionary context have been conducted. Here, we identify human-specific methylation in the lateral cerebellum relative to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, in a comparative study with chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Specifically, we profiled genome-wide methylation levels in the three species for each of the two brain structures and identified human-specific differentially methylated genomic regions unique to each structure. We further identified which differentially methylated regions (DMRs) overlap likely regulatory elements and determined whether associated genes show corresponding species differences in gene expression. We found greater human-specific methylation in the cerebellum than the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, with differentially methylated regions overlapping genes involved in several conditions or processes relevant to human neurobiology, including synaptic plasticity, lipid metabolism, neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, and neurodevelopment, including developmental disorders. Moreover, our results show some overlap with those of previous studies focused on the neocortex, indicating that such results may be common to multiple brain structures. These findings further our understanding of the cerebellum in human brain evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009506
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number5
StatePublished - 6 May 2021


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