Nearly 300 researchers studied the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from 30,717 individuals from around the world to evaluate genetic data from seven subcortical brain regions and intracranial volume from the scans, in a largest ever analysis of brain structure and genetics in the world.
“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,” said Jessica Turner of Georgia State University.
The study was undertaken to determine how common genetic variants affect the structure of these seven subcortical brain regions, which are associated with memory, movement, learning and motivation in the brain. Any changes in these brain areas can lead to abnormal behaviour and points to an imminent disease.
Previous research showed that the brain’s structure was strongly shaped by genetic influences. 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.
“Those are brain regions that we know are involved in various psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. In trying to figure out the genetics that make them either larger or smaller, it could have great benefits for understanding mechanisms of these disorders,” Turner concluded.
Their findings have been published in the journal Nature.