In groundbreaking work at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the VA San Diego Healthcare System, a team of researchers including multiple NARSAD Grantees has developed the first atlas of the human brain based on genetics instead of physiology or function. Published in the March 30 issue of the journal Science, the work was led in part by NARSAD Grantee William S. Kremen, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at UCSD, and opens important pathways to better understanding how the brain works and the role genes play in the functioning. This will enable the development of more effectively tailored treatments for various types of dysfunction in the brain.
Genetic information for this research was obtained from the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) data of more than 400 adult twins participating in an ongoing longitudinal study of cognitive aging. The atlas offers a new view of the cerebral cortex, which contains multiple layers of interconnected neurons aiding in memory, attention, language, cognition and consciousness, roughly divided into genetic divisions different from traditional brain divisions based on structure and function. According to Dr. Kremen, the genetic brain atlas is especially useful for researchers who employ genome-wide association studies (or GWAS), a relatively new tool used to look for common genetic variants in people that may be associated with a particular trait, condition or disease. Other NARSAD Grantees co-authoring this study include Ming T. Tsuang, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc.; Lisa T. Eyler, Ph.D.; and Larry J. Seidman, Ph.D.