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160 genes linked to brain shrinkage in study of 45,000 adults

Comparison of genes and MRI results shows associations

September 26, 2020
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
An analysis conducted in 45,000 adults mainly of European ancestry associated 160 genes with brain shrinkage seen on MRI.

A new study implicates 160 genes in brain shrinkage seen on MRIs of 45,000 healthy adults. The shrinkage is in the cortex, the dimply outer layer of the brain that gives rise to thinking, awareness and action, and largely consists of gray matter.

The study, published Sept. 22 in the journal Nature Communications, examined 34 regions of the cortex in a discovery group of 22,894 individuals, then confirmed the findings in a replication group of 22,635 individuals.

"It is important to understand the biology of multiple regions of the cortex because each is affected differently in the various types of neurodegeneration including Alzheimer's disease," said Sudha Seshadri, MD, senior study author from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio).

"We asked, 'What are the genes that seem to determine the thickness, area and volume of gray matter in these regions?'" Dr. Seshadri, who directs the university's Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Diseases, added. "And the genes we found point to interesting pathways that seem to be involved in brain development, vascular and neurodegenerative disease, and some psychiatric conditions."

Brain shrinkage occurs with normal aging, but the pattern of shrinkage in healthy individuals differs from the pattern in those who develop disease. The genes represent new targets of study for development of drugs to intervene before the onset of clinical symptoms, Dr. Seshadri said.

"This is a very rich resource, and it will be mined for many years to understand the different associations we are seeing," Dr. Seshadri said. "We are excited to share it with the world."

Large study samples

Claudia Satizabal, PhD, of the Biggs Institute and Department of Population Health Sciences in UT Health San Antonio's Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine, is one of the lead epidemiologists for the research. "This study has considerable statistical power," Dr. Satizabal said. "Because the results from the first sample were replicated in a second equally large sample, it is less likely that the results are purely due to chance."

Dr. Satizabal and Dr. Seshadri previously published a study on the volumes of structures deep within the brain that determine subconscious needs such as appetite and sleep. In this new paper the team examined the brain surface, which is important for conscious thinking abilities.

The discovery sample is from 20 study populations within the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) consortium and the UK Biobank. The replication sample is from the Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) Consortium.

Study limitations included the variability of instruments to image the brain among cohorts due to different scanners, field strengths and analysis software. The sample is composed mainly of European ancestry.

"We seek to add other ethnicities to the CHARGE cohorts, including our Hispanic population of South Texas," Dr. Seshadri said.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Edith Hofer, Gennady V. Roshchupkin, Hieab H. H. Adams, Maria J. Knol, Honghuang Lin, Shuo Li, Habil Zare, Shahzad Ahmad, Nicola J. Armstrong, Claudia L. Satizabal, Manon Bernard, Joshua C. Bis, Nathan A. Gillespie, Michelle Luciano, Aniket Mishra, Markus Scholz, Alexander Teumer, Rui Xia, Xueqiu Jian, Thomas H. Mosley, Yasaman Saba, Lukas Pirpamer, Stephan Seiler, James T. Becker, Owen Carmichael, Jerome I. Rotter, Bruce M. Psaty, Oscar L. Lopez, Najaf Amin, Sven J. van der Lee, Qiong Yang, Jayandra J. Himali, Pauline Maillard, Alexa S. Beiser, Charles DeCarli, Sherif Karama, Lindsay Lewis, Mat Harris, Mark E. Bastin, Ian J. Deary, A. Veronica Witte, Frauke Beyer, Markus Loeffler, Karen A. Mather, Peter R. Schofield, Anbupalam Thalamuthu, John B. Kwok, Margaret J. Wright, David Ames, Julian Trollor, Jiyang Jiang, Henry Brodaty, Wei Wen, Meike W. Vernooij, Albert Hofman, André G. Uitterlinden, Wiro J. Niessen, Katharina Wittfeld, Robin Bülow, Uwe Völker, Zdenka Pausova, G. Bruce Pike, Sophie Maingault, Fabrice Crivello, Christophe Tzourio, Philippe Amouyel, Bernard Mazoyer, Michael C. Neale, Carol E. Franz, Michael J. Lyons, Matthew S. Panizzon, Ole A. Andreassen, Anders M. Dale, Mark Logue, Katrina L. Grasby, Neda Jahanshad, Jodie N. Painter, Lucía Colodro-Conde, Janita Bralten, Derrek P. Hibar, Penelope A. Lind, Fabrizio Pizzagalli, Jason L. Stein, Paul M. Thompson, Sarah E. Medland, Perminder S. Sachdev, William S. Kremen, Joanna M. Wardlaw, Arno Villringer, Cornelia M. van Duijn, Hans J. Grabe, William T. Longstreth, Myriam Fornage, Tomas Paus, Stephanie Debette, M. Arfan Ikram, Helena Schmidt, Reinhold Schmidt, Sudha Seshadri. Genetic correlations and genome-wide associations of cortical structure in general population samples of 22,824 adults. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-18367-y

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University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "160 genes linked to brain shrinkage in study of 45,000 adults." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2020. <>.
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. (2020, September 26). 160 genes linked to brain shrinkage in study of 45,000 adults. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 5, 2023 from
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "160 genes linked to brain shrinkage in study of 45,000 adults." ScienceDaily. (accessed December 5, 2023).

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