New research on ‘brain heritage’ could pave the way for personalised treatment

    13 July 2015

    According to new research published in the journal Current Biology, the shape of the cerebral cortex – the outermost layer of the brain – is closely linked to ancestral heritage. The study found that researchers could predict, with relatively high accuracy, an individual’s genetic heritage based on analysis of their cerebral cortex.

    The researchers used sample brain scans from four continents – Europe, Africa, Asia and America – as a reference. The researchers found that between 47 and 66 percent of the variation among individuals could be explained by their genetic ancestry.

    This research raises the possibility that diseases of the brain could be treated more effectively, because clinicians will have a greater understanding of an individual patient’s needs based on their genetic ancestry.

    The study’s author, Anders Dale, a professor of radiology at University College San Diego, explains why:

    ‘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.’

    A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience also found a link between this area of the brain and family income. It is becoming increasingly clear that the cerebral cortex is a reliable indicator of many aspects of a person’s identity.

    Understanding the differences in brain structure – which Dale says are ‘subtle, but systematic’ – will, he claims, help scientists to refine brain research and create improved standards for the future.