Scientists Find Genes That Influence Brain Wave Patterns

April 27, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have identified new genes and pathways that influence an individual's typical pattern of brain electrical activity, a trait that may serve as a useful surrogate marker for more genetically complex traits and diseases. One of the genes, for example, was found to be associated with alcoholism.

A report of the findings by researchers at the National Institute on and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, appears online this week in the .

"This important advance sustains our hope for the potential of genome-wide association techniques to further the study of complex genetic disorders such as alcoholism," notes NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) allow researchers to rapidly scan the complete set of DNA of many individuals to find genetic variations associated with a particular disease or condition.

"One of the challenges in identifying the genes that underlie alcoholism is the large degree of genetic and environmental variability associated with the disease," explains first author Colin A. Hodgkinson, Ph.D., a geneticist in the NIAAA Laboratory of Neurogenetics. "Such variability has impeded even GWAS efforts to identify alcoholism genes. To overcome those difficulties, we used GWAS techniques to search for genetic variants related to EEG, or brain wave, patterns in a comparatively small sample of several hundred Native American individuals."

As unique as an individual's fingerprints, EEG () patterns are highly heritable, and have been associated with alcoholism and other psychiatric disorders. The high degree of genetic similarity and common shared by the Native American individuals that comprised the study sample aided this search.

Working with David Goldman, M.D., chief of the NIAAA Laboratory of Neurogenetics, Dr. Hodgkinson and colleagues identified multiple genes that were associated with the amplitude, or height, of two of the four characteristic electrical frequencies that make up the wave patterns found in EEG recordings.

One of the genes, for example, was found to account for nearly 9 percent of the EEG theta wave variability seen in the Native American sample. Theta waves are relatively low-frequency brain waves, and previous studies have shown that their amplitude is altered among alcoholics. The researchers then showed that the same gene accounted for about 4 percent of theta wave variability in a sample of North American whites. The gene's diminished effect among whites, they noted, was likely a reflection of the greater genetic variability present in that sample. In the same study Dr. Goldman's group went on to show that in one of the genes identified for theta wave variability was also associated with an altered risk for alcoholism.

"While our main findings are for that influence EEG wave patterns, this study represents an important step toward the use of EEG as a surrogate marker for alcoholism," notes Dr. Goldman. "It also reveals new molecular pathways involved in addiction processes."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers find evidence of DNA damage in veterans with Gulf War illness

October 19, 2017
Researchers say they have found the "first direct biological evidence" of damage in veterans with Gulf War illness to DNA within cellular structures that produce energy in the body.

Researchers drill down into gene behind frontotemporal lobar degeneration

October 19, 2017
Seven years ago, Penn Medicine researchers showed that mutations in the TMEM106B gene significantly increased a person's risk of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD), the second most common cause of dementia in those ...

New clues to treat Alagille syndrome from zebrafish

October 18, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) identifies potential new therapeutic avenues for patients with Alagille syndrome. The discovery, published in Nature Communications, ...

Genetic variants associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder identified

October 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—An international team of researchers has found evidence of four genes that can be linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the group ...

An architect gene is involved in the assimilation of breast milk

October 17, 2017
A family of "architect" genes called Hox coordinates the formation of organs and limbs during embryonic life. Geneticists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), ...

Study identifies genes responsible for diversity of human skin colors

October 12, 2017
Human populations feature a broad palette of skin tones. But until now, few genes have been shown to contribute to normal variation in skin color, and these had primarily been discovered through studies of European populations.

0 comments

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.