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Gene Variants Affect Brain Size

Researchers at the University of Oslo have identified several new gene variants that affect the size of the human brain.

The newly-identified variants are important for the brain’s development, the removal of unwanted cells and for contact between nerve cells, according to the University of Oslo.

“This is an important step on the path to finding the causes of a number of psychological disorders. We are now investigating how these results might relate to brain diseases,” says Ole A. Andreassen, professor at the University of Oslo and specialist in psychiatry at Oslo University Hospital. “The newly-discovered genetic variants are found in brain regions called the putamen and the caudate nucleus. The size of the entire brain is affected by these variants.”

The study analyzed the volume of seven of the brain’s innermost regions, using images of the brain taken with MRI. A total of 29,556 people from 50 different populations worldwide were studied.

The discovery was made through so-called genome-wide association studies. A study of this type maps genetic variation in the entire genome. The study compared the frequency of gene variants in connection with a particular variable; in this case, brain volume.

“The strongest effects were seen for the volume of the putamen,” explains Andreassen. “Here we found a new gene variant that affects biological processes.” Specifically, the variant affects the transport of cellular components, a process important for the building and renewal of brain cells, the university reports.

“Thus it is not disease genes that we have found, but rather genes with differences in the genetic code that lead to heritable, normal variation in brain structure,” adds Andreassen.

Source: University of Oslo