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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2016, Article ID 6827135, 8 pages
Review Article

Placental, Matrilineal, and Epigenetic Mechanisms Promoting Environmentally Adaptive Development of the Mammalian Brain

Institute for Women’s Health, University College London, 74 Huntley Street, London WC1N 6HX, UK

Received 14 November 2015; Accepted 3 March 2016

Academic Editor: Stuart C. Mangel

Copyright © 2016 Kevin D. Broad et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The evolution of intrauterine development, vivipary, and placentation in eutherian mammals has introduced new possibilities and constraints in the regulation of neural plasticity and development which promote neural function that is adaptive to the environment that a developing brain is likely to encounter in the future. A range of evolutionary adaptations associated with placentation transfers disproportionate control of this process to the matriline, a period unique in mammalian development in that there are three matrilineal genomes interacting in the same organism at the same time (maternal, foetal, and postmeiotic oocytes). The interactions between the maternal and developing foetal hypothalamus and placenta can provide a template by which a mother can transmit potentially adaptive information concerning potential future environmental conditions to the developing brain. In conjunction with genomic imprinting, it also provides a template to integrate epigenetic information from both maternal and paternal lineages. Placentation also hands ultimate control of genomic imprinting and intergenerational epigenetic information transfer to the matriline as epigenetic markers undergo erasure and reprogramming in the developing oocyte. These developments, in conjunction with an expanded neocortex, provide a unique evolutionary template by which matrilineal transfer of maternal care, resources, and culture can be used to promote brain development and infant survival.