JUL 10, 2015 4:13 PM PDT

Genetic Geometry

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
In discovering that the three-dimensional shape of the cerebral cortex strongly correlates with ancestral background, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and the School of Medicine think they may have clues that could lead to personalized medicine approaches for diagnosing and treating neurological disorders. The study, published online July 9 in Current Biology, and reported in Medical News Today, could facilitate studies of brain anatomy (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/296603.php).
The three-dimensional shape of the cerebral cortex is a predictor of ancestry, say UCSD researchers.
Since 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick revealed the structure of DNA, researchers figured out the genetic letters in the code without revealing what makes specific genes turn on or off at different times, in different tissue types, at different moments in a person's day or life, says a recent article in Quanta Magazine. To figure out these processes, "we must understand how those genetic letters collectively spiral about, coil, pinch off into loops, aggregate into domains and globules, and otherwise assume a nucleus-wide architecture." According to Job Dekker, a molecular biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester who has built tools for unveiling genomic geometry, "The beauty of DNA made people forget about the genome's larger-scale structure. Now we are going back to studying the structure of the genome because we realize that the three-dimensional architecture of DNA will tell us how cells actually use the information. Everything in the genome only makes sense in 3-D" (https://www.quantamagazine.org/20150225-genetic-geometry-takes-shape/).

In the words of the UCSD study's senior author Anders Dale, PhD, professor of radiology, neurosciences, psychiatry and cognitive science, and director of the Center for Translational Imaging and Precision Medicine at UC San Diego, "If we can account for a large percentage of brain structure based on an individual's genes, we're in a better position to detect smaller variations in the brain that might be important in understanding disease or developmental issues." While the researchers found they could predict with "a relatively high degree of accuracy an individual's genetic ancestry based on the geometry of the cerebral cortex," they found no relationship between brain shape and functional or cognitive abilities.

"The geometry of the brain's cortical surface contains rich information about ancestry," explains the study's first author, Chun Chieh Fan, MD, a graduate student in cognitive science. "Even in the modern contemporary U.S. population, with its melting pot of different cultures, it was still possible to correlate brain cortex structure to ancestral background."

The researchers used four continental populations as ancestral references: European, West African, East Asian and Native American. They summarized genetic ancestry in each ancestral component as proportions ranging from 0 to 100 percent.

"We looked to see how well we could predict how much genetic ancestry they had from Africa, Europe and so forth," says study co-author Terry Jernigan, PhD, professor of cognitive science, psychiatry and radiology, as well as director of the university's Center for Human Development. Adding that cortex differences between various lineages were focused in certain areas, Jernigan explains, "There were various systematic differences, particularly in the folding and gyrification patterns of the cortex. Those patterns were quite strongly reflective of genetic ancestry."
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
You May Also Like
SEP 01, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Women's Genes May Help Protect Against the Worst Alzheimer's Cases
SEP 01, 2020
Women's Genes May Help Protect Against the Worst Alzheimer's Cases
Women tend to get Alzheimer's more than men, but the female genome gives them some protection from the worst aspects of ...
SEP 04, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Expanding Our View of How Gene Variants Affect Blood Cells
SEP 04, 2020
Expanding Our View of How Gene Variants Affect Blood Cells
Small changes in the sequences of some genes affect the characteristics of blood cells, and may contribute to an individ ...
OCT 04, 2020
Cardiology
The Genetics of Body Fat May Shape Health Risks
OCT 04, 2020
The Genetics of Body Fat May Shape Health Risks
The work may help explain why men and women are at risk for different diseases and often respond to different treatments ...
OCT 11, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Using Terahertz Waves to Control Gene Expression
OCT 11, 2020
Using Terahertz Waves to Control Gene Expression
Terahertz waves sit in the far infrared/microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and can be generated by power ...
NOV 03, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
One Eight Cancer Patients Also Carry Inherited Genetic Mutations
NOV 03, 2020
One Eight Cancer Patients Also Carry Inherited Genetic Mutations
Genetic sequencing technologies have rapidly advanced, reducing the time required to sequence the entire human genome fr ...
NOV 09, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Potential Problems with Liquid Biopsies
NOV 09, 2020
Potential Problems with Liquid Biopsies
Liquid biopsies are tests that look for biomarkers in the blood, which can help inform the treatment of cancer. The tool ...
Loading Comments...