Genetic link between face and brain shape

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Sumary of Genetic link between face and brain shape:

  • An interdisciplinary team led by KU Leuven and Stanford has identified 76 overlapping genetic locations that shape both our face and our brain..
  • What the researchers didn’t find is evidence that this genetic overlap also predicts someone’s behavioural-cognitive traits or risk of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease..
  • There were already indications of a genetic link between the shape of our face and that of our brain, says Professor Peter Claes from the Laboratory for Imaging Genetics at KU Leuven, who is the joint senior author of the study with Professor Joanna Wysocka from the Stanford University School of Medicine..
  • “But our knowledge on this link was based on model organism research and clinical knowledge of extremely rare conditions,”.
  • “We set out to map the genetic link between individuals’ face and brain shape much more broadly, and for commonly occurring genetic variation in the larger, non-clinical population.”.
  • To study genetic underpinnings of brain shape, the team applied a methodology that Peter Claes and his colleagues had already used in the past to identify genes that determine the shape of our face..
  • “In these previous studies, we analysed 3D images of faces and linked several data points on these faces to genetic information to find correlations.”.
  • For the current study, the team relied on these previously acquired insights as well as the data available in the UK Biobank, a database from which they used the MRI brain scans and genetic information of 20,000 individuals..
  • Our specific focus was on variations in the folded external surface of the brain — the typical ‘walnut shape’..
  • To our surprise, we found that as many as 76 genomic locations predictive of the brain shape had previously already been found to be linked to the face shape..
  • The team also found evidence that genetic signals that influence both brain and face shape are enriched in the regions of the genome that regulate gene activity during embryogenesis, either in facial progenitor cells or in the developing brain..
  • “But we did not expect that this developmental cross-talk would be so genetically complex and would have such a broad impact on human variation.”.
  • At least as important is what the researchers did not find, says Dr Sahin Naqvi from the Stanford University School of Medicine, who is the first author of this study..
  • “We found a clear genetic link between someone’s face and their brain shape, but this overlap is almost completely unrelated to that individual’s behavioural-cognitive traits.”…

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