Intelligence 'networks' discovered in brain for the first time

December 21, 2015
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Scientists from Imperial College London have identified for the first time two clusters of genes linked to human intelligence.

Called M1 and M3, these so-called gene networks appear to influence cognitive function - which includes memory, attention, processing speed and reasoning.

Crucially, the scientists have discovered that these two networks - which each contain hundreds of - are likely to be under the control of master regulator switches. The researchers are now keen to identify these switches and explore whether it might be feasible to manipulate them. The research is at a very early stage, but the scientists would ultimately like to investigate whether it is possible to use this knowledge of gene networks to boost cognitive function.

Dr Michael Johnson, lead author of the study from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: "We know that genetics plays a major role in intelligence but until now haven't known which genes are relevant. This research highlights some of genes involved in , and how they interact with each other.

What's exciting about this is that the genes we have found are likely to share a common regulation, which means that potentially we can manipulate a whole set of genes whose activity is linked to human intelligence. Our research suggests that it might be possible to work with these genes to modify intelligence, but that is only a theoretical possibility at the moment - we have just taken a first step along that road."

In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the international team of researchers looked at samples of human brain from patients who had undergone neurosurgery for epilepsy. The investigators analysed thousands of genes expressed in the human brain, and then combined these results with genetic information from healthy people who had undergone IQ tests and from people with neurological disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability.

They conducted various computational analyses and comparisons in order to identify the influencing healthy human . Remarkably, they found that some of the same genes that influence human intelligence in healthy people were also the same genes that cause impaired cognitive ability and epilepsy when mutated.

Brain gene-network shows convergence between cognition and neurodevelopmental disorders. Credit: Duke-NUS Medical School

Dr Johnson added: "Traits such intelligence are governed by large groups of genes working together - like a football team made up of players in different positions. We used computer analysis to identify the genes in the human brain that work together to influence our cognitive ability to make new memories or sensible decisions when faced with lots of complex information. We found that some of these genes overlap with those that cause severe childhood onset epilepsy or intellectual disability.

"This study shows how we can use large genomic datasets to uncover new pathways for function in both health and disease. Eventually, we hope that this sort of analysis will provide new insights into better treatments for neurodevelopmental diseases such as epilepsy, and ameliorate or treat the cognitive impairments associated with these devastating diseases."

Explore further: Link between autism genes and higher intelligence, study suggests

More information: Systems genetics identifies a convergent gene network for cognition and neurodevelopmental disease, Nature Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1038/nn.4205

Related Stories

In US, poverty dampens genetic influence on IQ

December 16, 2015

An analysis of data gathered from 14 independent studies indicates that the influence of genes on intelligence varies according to people's social class in the US, but not in Western Europe or Australia. The findings are ...

Chimpanzee intelligence determined by genes

July 10, 2014

A chimpanzee's intelligence is largely determined by its genes, while environmental factors may be less important than scientists previously thought, according to a Georgia State University research study.

Researchers decode patterns that make our brains human

November 16, 2015

The human brain may be the most complex piece of organized matter in the known universe, but Allen Institute researchers have begun to unravel the genetic code underlying its function. Research published this month in Nature ...

Recommended for you

Neuro chip records brain cell activity

October 26, 2016

Brain functions are controlled by millions of brain cells. However, in order to understand how the brain controls functions, such as simple reflexes or learning and memory, we must be able to record the activity of large ...

Can a brain-computer interface convert your thoughts to text?

October 25, 2016

Ever wonder what it would be like if a device could decode your thoughts into actual speech or written words? While this might enhance the capabilities of already existing speech interfaces with devices, it could be a potential ...

The current state of psychobiotics

October 25, 2016

Now that we know that gut bacteria can speak to the brain—in ways that affect our mood, our appetite, and even our circadian rhythms—the next challenge for scientists is to control this communication. The science of psychobiotics, ...

After blindness, the adult brain can learn to see again

October 25, 2016

More than 40 million people worldwide are blind, and many of them reach this condition after many years of slow and progressive retinal degeneration. The development of sophisticated prostheses or new light-responsive elements, ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2015
If they need volunteers for a trial count me in!!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.