The cerebral cortex is the wrinkled outer layer of the brain controlling many functions of thinking and sensation. A new study has revealed that the three-dimensional shape of the cerebral cortex strongly correlates with one's ancestral background. The study findings open the door to more precise studies of brain anatomy going forward and could eventually lead to more personalized medicine approaches for diagnosing and treating brain diseases.
Study's senior author Anders Dale from University of California, San Diego, said, "If we can account for a large percentage of brain structure based on an individual's genes, we are in a better position to detect smaller variations in the brain that might be important in understanding disease or developmental issues."
The research team found that they could predict with a relatively high degree of accuracy an individual's genetic ancestry based on the geometry of their cerebral cortex. Dale said, "We found no relationship between brain shape and functional or cognitive abilities, but rather a trove of information about how minute differences in brain geometry could be correlated with genetic lineage."
Study's first author Chun Chieh Fan said, "The geometry of the brain's cortical surface contains rich information about ancestry. Even in the modern contemporary US population, with its melting pot of different cultures, it was still possible to correlate brain cortex structure to ancestral background."
The study found that there were various systematic differences, particularly in the folding and gyrification patterns of the cortex. These cortical patterns accounted for 47-66% of the variation among individuals in their genetic ancestry, depending on the ancestral lineage.
The study is published in Current Biology