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Exploiting human anatomical variability as a link between genome and cognome

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Although talents and disabilities appear to run in families, direct links between genes and cognitive ability are difficult to establish. Investigators are currently searching for intermediate phenotypes with plausible links to both genome and cognome (the cognitive phenotype). Cortical anatomy could provide one such intermediate phenotype. Variation in cortical size, asymmetry and sulcal pattern is influenced by genetic variation in neurotrophic factors and can predict variation in verbal and mathematical talent. Anecdotal evidence suggests that individuals with a rare morphological variant of Sylvian fissure sometimes have superior visualization ability combined with verbal deficits. Documentation of such ‘cognitive cortical syndromes’ might prove as genetically informative as the identification of dysmorphic syndromes associated with mental retardation. A necessary prerequisite for the establishment of such syndromes is a reliable technique for the identification of cortical patterns. Recent technical advances in software for automatically labeling and measuring cortical sulci now provide the possibility of establishing standard measures for their shape, size and location. Such measures are a prerequisite for genetic studies of cortical patterns that could illuminate the neurodevelopmental pathways by which genes affect cognitive ability.
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Keywords: Anatomy; MRI; asymmetry; cognition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Otolaryngology, Medical College of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, and 2: Department of Psychiatry, McKnight Brain Institute, University of Florida and the VA Medical Center, Gainesville, FL, USA

Publication date: February 1, 2006

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