Genetics of brain function and cognition

E.J.C. de Geus, M. Wright, N.G. Martin, D.I. Boomsma

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Abstract

There is overwhelming evidence for the existence of substantial genetic influences on individual differences in general and specific cognitive abilities, especially in adults. The actual localization and identification of genes underlying variation in cognitive abilities and intelligence has only just started, however. Successes are currently limited to neurological mutations with rather severe cognitive effects. The current approaches to trace genes responsible for variation in the normal ranges of cognitive ability consist of large scale linkage and association studies. These are hampered by the usual problems of low statistical power to detect quantitative trait loci (QTLs) of small effect. One strategy to boost the power of genomic searches is to employ endophenotypes of cognition derived from the booming field of cognitive neuroscience. This special issue of Behavior Genetics reports on one of the first genome-wide association studies for general IQ. A second paper summarizes candidate genes for cognition, based on animal studies. A series of papers then introduces two additional levels of analysis in the "black box" between genes and cognitive ability: (1) behavioral measures of information-processing speed (inspection time, reaction time, rapid naming) and working memory capacity (performance on on single or dual tasks of verbal and spatio-visual working memory), and (2) electrophyiosological derived measures of brain function (e.g., event-related potentials). The obvious way to assess the reliability and validity of these endophenotypes and their usefulness in the search for cognitive ability genes is through the examination of their genetic architecture in twin family studies. Papers in this special issue show that much of the association between intelligence and speed-of-information processing/brain function is due to a common gene or set of genes, and thereby demonstrate the usefulness of considering these measures in gene-hunting studies for IQ.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-495
Number of pages7
JournalBehavior Genetics
Volume31
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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