Is there a genetic connection between a person’s brain shape and face shape? A genome-wide association study done on 19,644 healthy individuals of European ancestry aimed to find out the answer to this question.

A researcher in the Laboratory for Imagine Genetics at KU Leuven, Professor Peter Claes, said that the study analyzed 3D images of faces and linked several data points to find correlations and identify genes that affect the shape of the face.

Using this methodology, the team of researchers identified 472 genomic regions that influence brain shape, particularly the variations in the surface of the brain’s “walnut shape.” Out of these regions or loci, 76 are also linked to face shape.

Evidence also shows that genetic signals influencing brain and face shape are developed in regions that regulate gene activity during embryogenesis. According to Professor Joanna Wysocka, a researcher at the Stanford University School of Medicine, this finding makes sense because the development of the brain and the face is coordinated.

However, these are not related in any way to the person’s cognitive ability, which means that facial features are not related to intelligence.

The team also tried to determine whether these genes that determine face shape are linked to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. They ultimately found out that genetic variants that contribute to these neuropsychiatric disorders are connected to those that affect brain shape but not to those that affect face shape.

This means that a person’s chance of developing a neuropsychiatric disorder like autism and ADHD cannot be determined by analysing their face shape.


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