Timothy B. Rowe, Thomas E. Macrini, Zhe-Xi Luo
Many hypotheses have been postulated regarding the early evolution of the mammalian brain. Here, x-ray tomography of the Early Jurassic mammaliaforms Morganucodon and Hadrocodium sheds light on this history. We found that relative brain size expanded to mammalian levels, with enlarged olfactory bulbs, neocortex, olfactory (pyriform) cortex, and cerebellum, in two evolutionary pulses. The initial pulse was probably driven by increased resolution in olfaction and improvements in tactile sensitivity (from body hair) and neuromuscular coordination. A second pulse of olfactory enhancement then enlarged the brain to mammalian levels. The origin of crown Mammalia saw a third pulse of olfactory enhancement, with ossified ethmoid turbinals supporting an expansive olfactory epithelium in the nasal cavity, allowing full expression of a huge odorant receptor genome.
Science 20 May 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6032 pp. 955-957 DOI: 10.1126/science.1203117