The highly complex structure of the human brain is strongly shaped by genetic influences1. Subcortical brain regions form circuits with cortical areas to coordinate movement2, learning, memory3 and motivation4, and altered circuits can lead to abnormal behaviour and disease2. To investigate how common genetic variants affect the structure of these brain regions, here we conduct genome-wide association studies of the volumes of seven subcortical regions and the intracranial volume derived from magnetic resonance images of 30,717 individuals from 50 cohorts. We identify five novel genetic variants influencing the volumes of the putamen and caudate nucleus. We also find stronger evidence for three loci with previously established influences on hippocampal volume5 and intracranial volume6. These variants show specific volumetric effects on brain structures rather than global effects across structures. The strongest effects were found for the putamen, where a novel intergenic locus with replicable influence on volume (rs945270; P = 1.08 × 10−33; 0.52% variance explained) showed evidence of altering the expression of the KTN1 gene in both brain and blood tissue. Variants influencing putamen volume clustered near developmental genes that regulate apoptosis, axon guidance and vesicle transport. Identification of these genetic variants provides insight into the causes of variability inhuman brain development, and may help to determine mechanisms of neuropsychiatric dysfunction.
The neuro-anatomical substrates of major depressive disorder (MDD) are still not well understood, despite many neuroimaging studies over the past few decades. Here we present the largest ever worldwide study by the ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis) Major Depressive Disorder Working Group on cortical structural alterations in MDD. Structural T1-weighted brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from 2148 MDD patients and 7957 healthy controls were analysed with harmonized protocols at 20 sites around the world. To detect consistent effects of MDD and its modulators on cortical thickness and surface area estimates derived from MRI, statistical effects from sites were meta-analysed separately for adults and adolescents. Adults with MDD had thinner cortical gray matter than controls in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), anterior and posterior cingulate, insula and temporal lobes (Cohen's d effect sizes: −0.10 to −0.14). These effects were most pronounced in first episode and adult-onset patients (>21 years). Compared to matched controls, adolescents with MDD had lower total surface area (but no differences in cortical thickness) and regional reductions in frontal regions (medial OFC and superior frontal gyrus) and primary and higher-order visual, somatosensory and motor areas (d: −0.26 to −0.57). The strongest effects were found in recurrent adolescent patients. This highly powered global effort to identify consistent brain abnormalities showed widespread cortical alterations in MDD patients as compared to controls and suggests that MDD may impact brain structure in a highly dynamic way, with different patterns of alterations at different stages of life.
The Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) Consortium is a collaborative network of researchers working together on a range of large-scale studies that integrate data from 70 institutions worldwide. Organized into Working Groups that tackle questions in neuroscience, genetics, and medicine, ENIGMA studies have analyzed neuroimaging data from over 12,826 subjects. In addition, data from 12,171 individuals were provided by the CHARGE consortium for replication of findings, in a total of 24,997 subjects. By meta-analyzing results from many sites, ENIGMA has detected factors that affect the brain that no individual site could detect on its own, and that require larger numbers of subjects than any individual neuroimaging study has currently collected. ENIGMA’s first project was a genome-wide association study identifying common variants in the genome associated with hippocampal volume or intracranial volume. Continuing work is exploring genetic associations with subcortical volumes (ENIGMA2) and white matter microstructure (ENIGMA-DTI). Working groups also focus on understanding how schizophrenia, bipolar illness, major depression and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affect the brain. We review the current progress of the ENIGMA Consortium, along with challenges and unexpected discoveries made on the way.
12The cerebral cortex underlies our complex cognitive capabilities, yet we know little about the specific genetic loci influencing human cortical structure. To identify genetic variants, including structural variants, impacting cortical structure, we conducted a genome-wide association meta-analysis of brain MRI data from 51,662 individuals. We analysed the surface area and average thickness of the whole cortex and 34 regions with known functional specialisations. We identified 255 nominally significant loci (P ≤ 5 x 10 -8 ); 199 survived multiple testing correction (P ≤ 8.3 x 10 -10 ; 187 surface area; 12 thickness). We found significant enrichment for loci influencing total surface area within regulatory elements active during prenatal cortical development, supporting the radial unit hypothesis. Loci impacting regional surface area cluster near genes in Wnt signalling pathways, known to influence progenitor expansion and areal identity. Variation in cortical structure is genetically correlated with cognitive function, Parkinson's disease, insomnia, depression and ADHD.One Sentence Summary: Common genetic variation is associated with inter-individual variation in the structure of the human cortex, both globally and within specific regions, and is shared with genetic risk factors for some neuropsychiatric disorders.The human cerebral cortex is the outer grey matter layer of the brain, which is implicated in multiple aspects of higher cognitive function. Its distinct folding pattern is characterised by convex (gyral) and concave (sulcal) regions. Computational brain mapping approaches use the consistent folding patterns across individual cortices to label brain regions(1). During fetal development excitatory neurons, the predominant neuronal cell-type in the cortex, are generated from neural progenitor cells in the developing germinal zone(2). The radial unit hypothesis(3) posits that the expansion of cortical surface area (SA) is driven by the proliferation of these neural progenitor cells, whereas thickness (TH) is determined by the number of neurogenic divisions. Variation in global and regional measures of cortical SA and TH are associated with neuropsychiatric disorders and psychological traits(4) ( Table S1). Twin and family-based brain imaging studies show that SA and TH measurements are highly heritable and are largely influenced by independent genetic factors(5). Despite extensive studies of genes impacting cortical structure in model organisms (6), our current understanding of genetic variation impacting human cortical size and patterning is limited to rare, highly penetrant variants (7,8). These variants often disrupt cortical development, leading to altered post-natal structure. However, little is known about how common genetic variants impact human cortical SA and TH.To address this, we conducted genome-wide association meta-analyses of cortical SA and TH measures in 51,662 individuals from 60 cohorts from around the world (Tables S2-S4). Cortical measures were extracted from structural brain MRI scan...
The hippocampal formation is a brain structure integrally involved in episodic memory, spatial navigation, cognition and stress responsiveness. Structural abnormalities in hippocampal volume and shape are found in several common neuropsychiatric disorders. To identify the genetic underpinnings of hippocampal structure here we perform a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of 33,536 individuals and discover six independent loci significantly associated with hippocampal volume, four of them novel. Of the novel loci, three lie within genes (ASTN2, DPP4 and MAST4) and one is found 200 kb upstream of SHH. A hippocampal subfield analysis shows that a locus within the MSRB3 gene shows evidence of a localized effect along the dentate gyrus, subiculum, CA1 and fissure. Further, we show that genetic variants associated with decreased hippocampal volume are also associated with increased risk for Alzheimer's disease (r g ¼ À 0.155). Our findings suggest novel biological pathways through which human genetic variation influences hippocampal volume and risk for neuropsychiatric illness.
Hemispheric asymmetry is a cardinal feature of human brain organization. Altered brain asymmetry has also been linked to some cognitive and neuropsychiatric disorders. Here the ENIGMA consortium presents the largest ever analysis of cerebral cortical asymmetry and its variability across individuals. Cortical thickness and surface area were assessed in MRI scans of 17,141 healthy individuals from 99 datasets worldwide. Results revealed widespread asymmetries at both hemispheric and regional levels, with a generally thicker cortex but smaller surface area in the left hemisphere relative to the right. Regionally, asymmetries of cortical thickness and/or surface area were found in the inferior frontal gyrus, transverse temporal gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus, and entorhinal cortex. These regions are involved in lateralized functions, including language and visuospatial processing. In addition to population-level asymmetries, variability in brain asymmetry was related to sex, age, and brain size (indexed by intracranial volume). Interestingly, we did not find significant associations between asymmetries and handedness. Finally, with two independent pedigree datasets (N = 1,443 and 1,113, respectively), we found several asymmetries showing modest but highly reliable heritability. The structural asymmetries identified, and their variabilities and heritability provide a reference resource for future studies on the genetic basis of brain asymmetry and altered laterality in cognitive, neurological, and psychiatric disorders.Significance StatementLeft-right asymmetry is a key feature of the human brain's structure and function. It remains unclear which cortical regions are asymmetrical on average in the population, and how biological factors such as age, sex and genetic variation affect these asymmetries. Here we describe by far the largest ever study of cerebral cortical brain asymmetry, based on data from 17,141 participants. We found a global anterior-posterior 'torque' pattern in cortical thickness, together with various regional asymmetries at the population level, which have not been previously described, as well as effects of age, sex, and heritability estimates. From these data, we have created an on-line resource that will serve future studies of human brain anatomy in health and disease.
Intracranial volume reflects the maximally attained brain size during development, and remains stable with loss of tissue in late life. It is highly heritable, but the underlying genes remain largely undetermined. In a genome-wide association study of 32,438 adults, we discovered five novel loci for intracranial volume and confirmed two known signals. Four of the loci are also associated with adult human stature, but these remained associated with intracranial volume after adjusting for height. We found a high genetic correlation with child head circumference (ρgenetic=0.748), which indicated a similar genetic background and allowed for the identification of four additional loci through meta-analysis (Ncombined = 37,345). Variants for intracranial volume were also related to childhood and adult cognitive function, Parkinson’s disease, and enriched near genes involved in growth pathways including PI3K–AKT signaling. These findings identify biological underpinnings of intracranial volume and provide genetic support for theories on brain reserve and brain overgrowth.
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