Mammalian genomes encode tens of thousands of long-noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), which are capable of interactions with DNA, RNA and protein molecules, thereby enabling a variety of transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulatory activities. Strikingly, about 40% of lncRNAs are expressed specifically in the brain with precisely regulated temporal and spatial expression patterns. In stark contrast to the highly conserved repertoire of protein-coding genes, thousands of lncRNAs have newly appeared during primate nervous system evolution with hundreds of human-specific lncRNAs. Their evolvable nature and the myriad of potential functions make lncRNAs ideal candidates for drivers of human brain evolution. The human brain displays the largest relative volume of any animal species and the most remarkable cognitive abilities. In addition to brain size, structural reorganization and adaptive changes represent crucial hallmarks of human brain evolution. lncRNAs are increasingly reported to be involved in neurodevelopmental processes suggested to underlie human brain evolution, including proliferation, neurite outgrowth and synaptogenesis, as well as in neuroplasticity. Hence, evolutionary human brain adaptations are proposed to be essentially driven by lncRNAs, which will be discussed in this review.
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