International team identifies genetic link between face and brain shape
4 min read
fairly difficult
An interdisciplinary team led by KU Leuven and Stanford has identified 76 overlapping genetic locations that shape both our face and our brain. What the researchers didn't find is evidence that this genetic overlap also predicts someone's behavioural-cognitive traits or risk of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. This means that the findings help to debunk several persistent pseudoscientific claims about what our face reveals about us.
There were already indications of a genetic link between the shape of our face and that of our brain, says Professor Peter Claes from the Laboratory for Imaging Genetics at KU Leuven, who is the joint senior author of the study with Professor Joanna Wysocka from the Stanford University School of Medicine. "But our knowledge on this link was based on model organism research and clinical knowledge of extremely rare conditions," Claes continues. "We set out to map the genetic link between individuals' face and brain shape much more broadly, and for commonly occurring genetic variation in the larger, non-clinical population."

Brain scans and DNA from the UK Biobank

To study genetic underpinnings of brain shape, the team applied a methodology that Peter Claes and his colleagues had already used in the past to identify genes that determine the shape of our face. Claes: "In these previous studies, we analysed 3D images of faces and linked several data points on these faces to genetic information to find correlations." This way, the researchers were able to identify various genes that shape our face.

For the current study, the team relied on these previously acquired insights as well as the data available in the UK Biobank, a database from which they used the MRI brain scans and genetic information of 20,000 individuals. Claes: "To be able to analyse the MRI scans, we had to measure the brains shown on the scans. Our specific focus was on variations in the folded external…
Read full article