March 5, 2024

Largest-Ever Study of the Genetics of the Brain Identifies How the Brain Is Organized

The largest-ever study of brain genes has determined over 4,000 hereditary versions associated with brain structure. The study, which used MRI scans from kids and adults, revealed that different sets of genes add to the folding and size of the cortex, and discovered that many genes connected to brain size in the general population overlap with genes implicated in cephalic conditions, shedding light on the genetic basis of brain advancement and its implications for psychiatric and neurological conditions.
The largest-ever study of the genes of the brain which examined around 36,000 brain scans, has actually determined over 4,000 hereditary aspects associated with brain structure. The research, led by the University of Cambridge team, was recently published in the journal Nature Genetics.
Our brains are highly intricate and intricate organs, showing considerable variation in between people in aspects such as total brain volume, the folding patterns of the brain, and the thickness of these folds. Little is understood about how our genetic makeup shapes the development of the brain.
To answer this concern, a group led by scientists at the Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, accessed MRI scans from over 32,000 adults from the UK Biobank associate and over 4,000 kids from the US-based ABCD study. From these scans, the researchers measured multiple properties of the outer layer of the brain called the cortex. These consisted of measures of the area and volume of the cortex along with how the cortex is folded.

They then connected these properties, determined both across the whole cortex as well as in 180 private areas of the cortex, to hereditary info across the genome. The team identified over 4,000 hereditary variations linked to brain structure.
These findings have enabled researchers to confirm and, in many cases, identify, how different properties of the brain are genetically linked to each other.
Dr. Varun Warrier from the Autism Research Centre, who co-led the study, said: “One question that has interested us for a while is if the exact same genes that are connected to how huge the cortex is– determined as both volume and area– are likewise connected to how the cortex is folded. By determining these different properties of the brain and linking them to genetics, we found that various sets of genes add to folding and size of the cortex.”
The group likewise checked whether the same genes that are connected to variation in brain size in the general population overlap with genes linked to scientific conditions where head sizes are much larger or smaller sized than the basic population, referred to as cephalic conditions.
Dr. Richard Bethlehem, also from the Autism Research Centre and a co-lead of the research study, said: “Many of the genes connected with differences in the brain sizes in the basic population overlapped with genes linked in cephalic conditions. We still do not know how precisely these genes lead to modifications in brain size.”
Dr. Warrier included: “This work shows that how our brain develops is partially genetic. Our findings can be used to comprehend how changes in the shape and size of the brain can lead to neurological and psychiatric conditions, possibly leading to better treatment and support for those who need it.”
Recommendation: “Genetic insights into human cortical company and development through genome-wide analyses of 2,347 neuroimaging phenotypes” by Varun Warrier, Eva-Maria Stauffer, Qin Huang, Emilie M. Wigdor, Eric A. W. Slob, Jakob Seidlitz, Lisa Ronan, Sofie L. Valk, Travis T. Mallard, Andrew D. Grotzinger, Rafael Romero-Garcia, Simon Baron-Cohen, Daniel H. Geschwind, Madeline A. Lancaster, Graham K. Murray, Michael J. Gandal, Aaron Alexander-Bloch, Hyejung Won, Hilary C. Martin, Edward T. Bullmore and Richard A. I. Bethlehem, 17 August 2023, Nature Genetics.DOI: 10.1038/ s41588-023-01475-y.
This research study was supported by the Wellcome Trust. It was performed in association with the NIHR CLAHRC for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.