Metabolic costs and evolutionary implications of human brain development

  title={Metabolic costs and evolutionary implications of human brain development},
  author={Christopher W. Kuzawa and Harry T. Chugani and Lawrence I. Grossman and Leonard Lipovich and Otto Muzik and Patrick R. Hof and Derek E. Wildman and Chet C. Sherwood and William R. Leonard and Nicholas T. Lange},
  journal={Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences},
  pages={13010 - 13015}
Significance The metabolic costs of brain development are thought to explain the evolution of humans’ exceptionally slow and protracted childhood growth; however, the costs of the human brain during development are unknown. We used existing PET and MRI data to calculate brain glucose use from birth to adulthood. We find that the brain’s metabolic requirements peak in childhood, when it uses glucose at a rate equivalent to 66% of the body’s resting metabolism and 43% of the body’s daily energy… 

Figures from this paper

Sex differences in estimated brain metabolism in relation to body growth through adolescence
  • S. Vandekar, H. Shou, J. Detre
  • Biology, Psychology
    Journal of cerebral blood flow and metabolism : official journal of the International Society of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism
  • 2019
These findings confirm prior findings with positron emission tomography performed in a much smaller cohort, demonstrate that relative brain metabolism can be inferred from noninvasive MRI data, and extend observations on the associations between body growth and brain metabolism to sex differences through adolescence.
Metabolic changes in human brain evolution.
This review considers what is currently known about human brain metabolism using a variety of methods from brain imaging and stereology to transcriptomics, and examines novel opportunities that stem cell technologies and single-cell transcriptomics provide to further the knowledge of human brain energetics.
Child growth and development: new insights from evolutionary energetics
Evidence is found that variation in linear growth among prepubertal Shuar children from Amazonian Ecuador can largely be explained by energetic trade-offs involving routine immune activity, and there is now evidence for trade-off between immune activity and children’s linear growth across even wider immunological diversity.
The evolutionary roles of nutrition selection and dietary quality in the human brain size and encephalization
It appears that major expansion of brain size in the human lineage is the product of synergistically interacting dietary/nutritional and social forces.
Normative Brain Size Variation and the Remodeling of Brain Shape in Humans
A hodologically and metabolically expensive brain network is preferentially expanded in larger-brained humans, defining a new organizing principle in human brain patterning which governs the highly-coordinated remodeling of human brain shape as a function of naturally-occurring variations in brain size.
Genetics of human brain evolution.
Brain size growth in Australopithecus.
A hypothesis linking the energy demand of the brain to obesity risk
A role for brain energetics as a driver of variation within a population’s BMI distribution is proposed and it is suggested that educational interventions that boost global brain energy use during childhood could help reduce the burden of obesity.


Metabolic correlates of hominid brain evolution.
Brain growth, life history, and cognition in primate and human evolution
  • S. Leigh
  • Biology, Psychology
    American journal of primatology
  • 2004
The results indicate that primates are characterized by significant variation in patterns of brain growth, and appear to present at least two major metabolic adaptations that represent components of distinctive life‐history adaptations.
Energetics and the evolution of human brain size
It is found that the size of brains and adipose depots are negatively correlated in mammals, indicating that encephalization and fat storage are compensatory strategies to buffer against starvation, however, these two strategies can be combined if fat storage does not unduly hamper locomotor efficiency.
Metabolic constraint imposes tradeoff between body size and number of brain neurons in human evolution
It is shown that metabolic limitations that result from the number of hours available for feeding and the low caloric yield of raw foods impose a tradeoff between body size and number of brain neurons, which explains the small brain size of great apes compared with their large body size.
Primate energy expenditure and life history
Broad interspecific comparisons of growth, reproduction, and maximum life span indicate that primates’ slow metabolic rates contribute to their characteristically slow life histories.
Adipose tissue in human infancy and childhood: an evolutionary perspective.
  • C. Kuzawa
  • Medicine
    American journal of physical anthropology
  • 1998
Well-fed infants acquire peak fat reserves by an age of peak prevalence of malnutrition, infectious disease, and fat reserve depletion in less-buffered contexts, and childhood--characterized by minimal investment in the tissue--is a stage of reduced risk of energy stress.
Energetic demand of multiple dependents and the evolution of slow human growth
It is found that either sub-adult production or food subsidies from other people must substantially increase in order to compensate for the dramatic increase in energetic demand on parents if offspring were to grow faster at younger ages.
Aerobic glycolysis in the primate brain: reconsidering the implications for growth and maintenance
Comparative studies of metabolic appropriation in the brain may contribute to the discussion of human cognitive evolution and to the understanding of human-specific aging and the etiology of neuropsychiatric diseases.
Nutritional requirements and human evolution: A bioenergetics model
  • W. Leonard, M. L. Robertson
  • Biology, Environmental Science
    American journal of human biology : the official journal of the Human Biology Council
  • 1992
These metabolic and dietary changes are linked to the emergence of hunting and gathering, the evolution of the human pattern of prolonged development, and the coexistence and competition with the robust australopithecines.