The complexity of the human brain, with thousands of neuronal types, permits the development of sophisticated behavioral repertoires, such as language, tool use, self-awareness, symbolic thought, cultural learning and consciousness. From such dynamic complexity emerged extraordinary technological and artistic masterpieces in a relatively short cultural history. Moreover, brain complexity has a creative purpose. Understanding what produces neuronal diversification during brain development has been a longstanding challenge for neuroscientists and may bring insights on the evolution of human cognition.
Our laboratory proposes to explore mobile elements as generators of diversity during neuronal differentiation, challenging the concept of “junk DNA”. These mobile elements may be part of a conserved core process responsible for evoking facilitated complex non-random phenotypical variation in which selection may act. We use neural stem cells, human pluripotent cells and several molecular tools to investigate fundamental mechanisms of brain development and mental disorders. Key Words: Stem cells, Brain development, Mobile Elements, CNS evolution