Joshua L. Roffman
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Researcher at Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School
The 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 × 10−8); 199 survived multiple testing correction ( P ≤ 8.3 × 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 radial unit hypothesis provides a framework for global (proliferation) and regional (distribution) expansion of the primate cerebral cortex. Using principal component analysis (PCA), we have identified cortical regions with shared variance in their surface area and cortical thickness, respectively, segmented from magnetic resonance images obtained in 23,800 participants. We then carried out meta-analyses of genome-wide association studies of the first two principal components for each phenotype. For surface area (but not cortical thickness), we have detected strong associations between each of the components and single nucleotide polymorphisms in a number of gene loci. The first (global) component was associated mainly with loci on chromosome 17 (9.5e-32 ≤ p ≤ 2.8e-10), including those detected previously as linked with intracranial volume and/or general cognitive function. The second (regional) component captured shared variation in the surface area of the primary and adjacent secondary visual cortices and showed a robust association with polymorphisms in a locus on chromosome 14 containing Disheveled Associated Activator of Morphogenesis 1 ( DAAM1 ; p =2.4e-34). DAAM1 is a key component in the planar-cell-polarity signaling pathway. In follow-up studies, we have focused on the latter finding and established that: (1) DAAM1 is highly expressed between 12th and 22nd post-conception weeks in the human cerebral cortex; (2) genes co-expressed with DAAM1 in the primary visual cortex are enriched in mitochondria-related pathways; and (3) volume of the lateral geniculate nucleus, which projects to regions of the visual cortex staining for cytochrome oxidase (a mitochondrial enzyme), correlates with the surface area of the visual cortex in major-allele homozygotes but not in carriers of the minor allele. Altogether, we speculate that, in concert with thalamocortical input to cortical subplate, DAAM1 enables migration of neurons to cytochrome-oxidase rich regions of the visual cortex, and, in turn, facilitates regional expansion of this set of cortical regions during development.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019-04-15
Converging evidence indicates that groups of patients with nominally distinct psychiatric diagnoses are not separated by sharp or discontinuous neurobiological boundaries. In healthy populations, individual differences in behavior are reflected in variability across the collective set of functional brain connections (functional connectome). These data suggest that the spectra of transdiagnostic symptom profiles observed in psychiatric patients may map onto detectable patterns of network function. To examine the manner through which neurobiological variation might underlie clinical presentation we obtained functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from over 1,000 individuals, including 210 diagnosed with a primary psychotic disorder or affective psychosis (bipolar disorder with psychosis and schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder), 192 presenting with a primary affective disorder without psychosis (unipolar depression, bipolar disorder without psychosis), and 608 demographically and data-quality matched healthy comparison participants recruited through a large-scale study of brain imaging and genetics. Here, we examine variation in functional connectomes across psychiatric diagnoses, finding striking evidence for disease connectomic 'fingerprints' that are commonly disrupted across distinct forms of pathology and appear to scale as a function of illness severity. Conversely, other properties of network connectivity were preferentially disrupted in patients with psychotic illness, but not patients without psychotic symptoms. This work allows us to establish key biological and clinical features of the functional connectomes of severe mental disease.