A role for the serotonin 2A receptor in the expansion and functioning of human transmodal cortex.


Integrating independent but converging lines of research on brain function and neurodevelopment across scales, this article proposes that serotonin 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) signalling is an evolutionary and developmental driver and potent modulator of the macroscale functional organization of the human cerebral cortex. A wealth of evidence indicates that the anatomical and functional organization of the cortex follows a unimodal-to-transmodal gradient. Situated at the apex of this processing hierarchy-where it plays a central role in the integrative processes underpinning complex, human-defining cognition-the transmodal cortex has disproportionately expanded across human development and evolution. Notably, the adult human transmodal cortex is especially rich in 5-HT2AR expression and recent evidence suggests that, during early brain development, 5-HT2AR signalling on neural progenitor cells stimulates their proliferation-a critical process for evolutionarily-relevant cortical expansion. Drawing on multimodal neuroimaging and cross-species investigations, we argue that, by contributing to the expansion of the human cortex and being prevalent at the apex of its hierarchy in the adult brain, 5-HT2AR signalling plays a major role in both human cortical expansion and functioning. Owing to its unique excitatory and downstream cellular effects, neuronal 5-HT2AR agonism promotes neuroplasticity, learning and cognitive and psychological flexibility in a context-(hyper)sensitive manner with therapeutic potential. Overall, we delineate a dual role of 5-HT2ARs in enabling both the expansion and modulation of the human transmodal cortex.