International team identifies genetic link between the shape of the face and the brain


Credit: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

An interdisciplinary team led by KU Leuven and Stanford has identified 76 overlapping genetic locations that shape both the face and our brains. What the researchers didn’t find is evidence that this genetic overlap also predicts a person’s cognitive behavioral traits or risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. This means that the findings help refute several persistent pseudoscientific claims about what our faces reveal about individuals.

There was already evidence of a genetic link between the shape of the face and that of the brain, says Professor Peter Claes of the Imaging Genetics Laboratory at KU Leuven, who is the joint lead author of the study with Stanford Professor Joanna Wysocka. Faculty of Medicine of the University. “But our knowledge of this link was based on research in model organisms and clinical knowledge of extremely rare conditions,” continues Claes. “We set out to map the genetic link between the shape of the face and the brain of individuals much more broadly, and for the genetic variation that commonly occurs in the larger non-clinical population.”

UK Biobank DNA and Brain Scans

To study the genetic foundations of the shape of the brain, the team applied a methodology that Peter Claes and his colleagues had used in the past to identify genes that determine the shape of the face. Claes says: “In these previous studies, we analyzed 3D images of faces and linked various data points on these faces with genetic information to find correlations.” In this way, the researchers were able to identify various genes that shape the face.

For the current study, the team drew on this previously acquired knowledge, as well as data available from the UK Biobank, a database from which they used MRI brain scans and 20,000 genetic information. persons. Claes says: “In order to analyze the MRI scanners, we had to measure the brains that are displayed on the scanners. Our specific focus was on variations in the folded outer surface of the brain, the typical ‘walnut shape.” We then went on to link the data from the image analyzes with the available genetic information. In this way, we identified 472 genomic locations that have an impact on the shape of our brain. 351 of these locations had never been reported before. To our surprise, we found that as many as 76 brain shape predictive genomic locations were previously found to be linked to face shape. This makes the genetic link between the shape of the face and the brain compelling. “

The team also found evidence that genetic signals that influence both the brain and the shape of the face are enriched in the regions of the genome that regulate gene activity during embryogenesis, either in facial progenitor cells or in the brain. Developing. This makes sense, explains Wysocka, since the development of the brain and the face are coordinated. “But we didn’t expect this crossover developmental conversation to be so genetically complex and have such a broad impact on human variation.”

No genetic link to behavior or neuropsychiatric disorders.

At least as important is what the researchers didn’t find, says Dr. Sahin Naqvi of Stanford University School of Medicine, who is the first author of this study. “We found a clear genetic link between someone’s face and the shape of their brain, but this overlap has little to do with that individual’s cognitive-behavioral traits.”

Even with advanced technologies, it is impossible to predict a person’s behavior based on their facial features. Peter Claes says, “Our results confirm that there is no genetic evidence for a link between someone’s face and that individual’s behavior. Therefore, we explicitly dissociate ourselves from pseudoscientific claims to the contrary. For example, some people claim that they can detect aggressive tendencies in faces using artificial intelligence. Not only are these projects completely unethical, but they also lack a scientific basis. “

In their study, the authors also briefly address conditions such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Claes says: “As a starting point, we used the results that were previously published by other teams on the genetic basis of such neuropsychiatric disorders. The possible link to the genes that determine the shape of our face has never been examined before. If you compare the With existing findings, you will see a relatively large overlap between the genetic variants that contribute to specific neuropsychiatric disorders and those that play a role in the shape of our brain, but not those that contribute to our face. ” In other words, our risk of developing a neuropsychiatric disorder is not written on our faces, either.

The study is published in Genetics of nature.

15 new genes identified that shape human faces

More information:
Shared heritability of the human face and brain shape, Genetics of nature, DOI: 10.1038 / s41588-021-00827-w

Citation: International team identifies genetic link between face shape and brain (2021, April 5) Retrieved April 6, 2021 from -link-brain.html

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