Genes, cells and brain areas of intelligence

Natalia A. Goriounova*, Huibert D. Mansvelder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


What is the neurobiological basis of human intelligence? The brains of some people seem to be more efficient than those of others. Understanding the biological foundations of these differences is of great interest to basic and applied neuroscience. Somehow, the secret must lie in the cells in our brain with which we think. However, at present, research into the neurobiology of intelligence is divided between two main strategies: brain imaging studies investigate macroscopic brain structure and function to identify brain areas involved in intelligence, while genetic associations studies aim to pinpoint genes and genetic loci associated with intelligence. Nothing is known about how properties of brain cells relate to intelligence. The emergence of transcriptomics and cellular neuroscience of intelligence might, however, provide a third strategy and bridge the gap between identified genes for intelligence and brain function and structure. Here, we discuss the latest developments in the search for the biological basis of intelligence. In particular, the recent availability of very large cohorts with hundreds of thousands of individuals have propelled exciting developments in the genetics of intelligence. Furthermore, we discuss the first studies that show that specific populations of brain cells associate with intelligence. Finally, we highlight how specific genes that have been identified generate cellular properties associated with intelligence and may ultimately explain structure and function of the brain areas involved. Thereby, the road is paved for a cellular understanding of intelligence, which will provide a conceptual scaffold for understanding how the constellation of identified genes benefit cellular functions that support intelligence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number44
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberFEBRUARY
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2019


  • Action potentials
  • Dendrites
  • Frontal cortex
  • GWAS of gene expression
  • Intelligence
  • Pyramidal cells
  • Temporal cortex


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