Molecular and Genetic Analysis of Human Brain Evolution

Christopher Walsh will attempt to better understand human brain function, by looking at the cerebral cortex to determine the functional significance of genes involved in its folding. The human cerebral cortex has expanded enormously during evolution. Gyrification, or folding, allows the expanded human cerebral cortex to fit inside the limited space of the skull. However, the mechanism of gyrification is unknown. Walsh will take two complementary approaches, human genetics and comparative genomics, to identify genetic sequences that contributed to gyrification, and to gain functional insight into their neurodevelopmental roles. The evolution of structural features of the human brain, and molecular changes in the brain, were part and parcel of the appearance of new functions such as language, music, and culture that first made their appearance in primitive societies, and have flourished most recently.

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Affiliated Investigators

Christopher Walsh, Ph.D.

Boston Children's Hospital

Christopher Walsh is Bullard Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at Harvard Medical School, Chief of the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children's Hospital, an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and an Associate Member of the Broad Institute.

Dr. Walsh completed his MD and PhD degrees (with Dr. Ray Guillery) at the University of Chicago.  After a neurology residency and chief residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at Harvard Medical School with Dr. Connie Cepko.  He joined the faculty at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in 1993, and has held the Bullard Professorship at Harvard since 1999.  He joined Children’s Hospital as Chief of Genetics in 2006.  Dr. Walsh’s research has focused on the development, evolution, and function of the human cerebral cortex, the part of our brain responsible for our highest cognitive abilities.  He has studied the basic biology of cell division and migration in developing brain, and has pioneered the analysis of human genetic diseases that disrupt the structure and function of the cerebral cortex.  His laboratory has identified genetic causes for more than twenty brain diseases of children, associated with autism, intellectual disability, seizures, and cerebral palsy, by fostering worldwide collaborations with physicians and families.  His lab has also discovered that some of the genes associated with human brain disease turn out to have been important targets of the evolutionary processes that shaped the human brain.

Among his awards are a Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Dreifuss-Penry Award from the American Academy of Neurology, the Derek Denny-Brown Award and the Jacoby Award from the American Neurological Association, the Research Award from the American Epilepsy Society, the Krieg Award from the Cajal Club, and the Wilder Penfield Award from the Middle Eastern Medical Assembly.  He is an elected member of the American Neurological Association, the American Association of Physicians, and the Institute of Medicine, and is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.