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Genetic contributions to human brain morphology and intelligence
Date:10/16/2007

for global brain volumes and particular focal brain densities and thicknesses, the search for genes that are involved in brain growth, aging, and brain structure maintenance is important. Such knowledge can help us understand normal developmental and age-associated changes in individual variation in brain functioning. Moreover, it enhances our knowledge of individual variation in brain functioning and facilitates the interpretation of the morphological changes found in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia [van Haren et al., 2007]. Also, it allows future efforts to find particular genes responsible for brain structures to be concentrated in areas that are under considerable genetic influence [Hulshoff Pol et al., 2006].

A genetic approach to find genes involved in brain structure that has been applied in several studies is that of diseases with a clear genetic etiology such as Huntingtons disease, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, and Velocardiofacial syndrome. A review reveals for these diseases besides disease specific brain changes, decreases in total brain, white matter, and hippocampus volumes, irrespective of the genes and/or chromosomes involved. This suggests that many genes are probably involved in the individual variation of these measures [Peper et al., in press].

It is important to investigate which environmental factors have an influence on the expression of genes (as found in DNA-methylation). Additionally, the study of interaction between genes and environmental factors is warranted. Furthermore, the simultaneous effects of multiple genes and possibly the interaction among genes, also needs investigation as the high heritability of a complex quantitative phenotype such as brain volume cannot be explained by a single-gene polymorphism

Conclusion

  • MRI studies in twins indicate that, given the basic additive genetic model, overall brain volume in adulthood is highly heritable.

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Contact: Hilleke E. Hulshoff Pol
h.e.hulshoff@umcutrecht.nl
European College of Neuropsychopharmacology
Source:Eurekalert

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