A team of international researchers has discovered five genetic
variants that influence the size of structures within the human brain.
The findings were
published this week in the journal Nature.
The study was led by Drs.
Sarah Medland, Margie Wright, Nick Martin and Paul Thompson of the QIMR
Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia. In the study, nearly 300
researchers analyzed genetic data and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
from 30,717 individuals from around the world.
They examined genetic
data from seven subcortical brain regions - nucleus accumbens, caudate,
putamen, pallidum, amygdala, hippocampus and thalamus - and intracranial volume
from MRI scans.
The goal was to determine
how common genetic variants affect the structure of these seven subcortical
brain regions, which are associated with memory, movement, learning and
motivation, said Dr. Jessica Turner, associate professor of psychology and
neuroscience at Georgia State, who organized some of the teams collecting and
evaluating data from participants with schizophrenia.
Changes in these brain areas can lead to abnormal behavior and
predisposition to disease.
Previous research has
shown the brain's structure is shaped by genetic influences. According to the
researchers, identifying genetic variants could provide insight into the causes
for variation in human brain development and help to determine how dysfunction
in the brain occurs.
"The team looked at
several million base pairs or locations on the human genome. Through a
large-scale, international data sharing and data-analysis-sharing effort, we
were able to actually successfully identify genetic effects on the hippocampus,
putamen and other brain regions that no one had ever successfully identified genetics
effects on before," Turner said.