In a genome-wide association study involving 19,644 individuals of European descent, an international team of researchers identified 472 genomic regions or loci that affect brain shape, 76 of which are also related to facial shape. These loci do not affect cognitive ability, which further debunks the belief that intelligence can be assessed by facial features.
“To study the genetic basis of brain shape, we have used methods that have been used in the past to identify the genes that determine the shape of our faces,” said Professor Peter Claes, a researcher at the KU Leuven Image Genetics Laboratory.
“In these previous studies, we analyzed 3D images of faces and correlated several data points on these faces with genetic information to find correlations.”
“In this way, we can identify the various genes that shape our faces.”
In the current study, the scientists used the information stored in the British Biobank to study the brain structure of 19,644 healthy people-obtained by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Professor Claes said: “In order to be able to analyze the MRI scan, we must measure the brain shown in the scan.”
“Our special focus is on the changes in the outer surface of the folded brain-the typical’walnut shape’.”
“Then we proceed to link the data from the image analysis to the available genetic information.”
The author found 472 loci in the genome that affect the shape of the brain. Among them, 76 previously affected facial structure.
“In this way, we identified 472 genomic regions that have an impact on the shape of our brain. 351 of these positions have never been reported,” he said.
“To our surprise, we found that as many as 76 genomic locations that predict brain shape have been previously found to be related to facial shape. This makes the genetic link between face and brain shape convincing.”
They also found evidence that genetic signals that affect the shape of the brain and face enrich the regions of the genome that regulate gene activity during embryogenesis, whether it is facial progenitor cells or the developing brain.
Professor Joanna Wysoka, a researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine, said: “This is reasonable because of the coordination of the brain and the face.”
“But we didn’t expect that this kind of cross talk would be genetically so complicated, and would not have such a wide impact on human mutation.”
In the study, the research team also briefly introduced diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Professor Kleis said: “As a starting point, we used the results of the genetic basis of this neuropsychiatric disease previously published by other teams.”
“The possible link to the genes that determine the shape of our faces has never been examined.”
“If you compare the existing findings with our new findings, you will find that there is a relatively large overlap between the genetic variants that cause certain neuropsychiatric diseases and those that affect the shape of our brains, but for the factors that contribute to our facial expressions. There is relatively little overlap in genetic variation.”
“In other words: our risk of neuropsychiatric disease is not written on our faces.”
Professor Wysocka added: “We were surprised to discover 76 genetic regions that affect the shape of the human face and brain.”
“This is an astonishing degree of overlap, and it shows how closely these two structures influence each other during development. However, none of our data suggests that we can predict just by looking at a person’s face. Behavior, cognitive function, or neuropsychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia or ADHD.”
The result appears in the log Natural genetics.
S. Naqvi Wait. The shape of the human face and the brain share the same heredity. Nat Ginat, Released online on April 5, 2021; doi: 10.1038 / s41588-021-00827-w