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Exploring human brain lateralization with molecular genetics and genomics

Francks, C. (2015). Exploring human brain lateralization with molecular genetics and genomics. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1359, 1-13. doi:10.1111/nyas.12770.
Lateralizations of brain structure and motor behavior have been observed in humans as early as the first trimester of gestation, and are likely to arise from asymmetrical genetic–developmental programs, as in other animals. Studies of gene expression levels in postmortem tissue samples, comparing the left and right sides of the human cerebral cortex, have generally not revealed striking transcriptional differences between the hemispheres. This is likely due to lateralization of gene expression being subtle and quantitative. However, a recent re-analysis and meta-analysis of gene expression data from the adult superior temporal and auditory cortex found lateralization of transcription of genes involved in synaptic transmission and neuronal electrophysiology. Meanwhile, human subcortical mid- and hindbrain structures have not been well studied in relation to lateralization of gene activity, despite being potentially important developmental origins of asymmetry. Genetic polymorphisms with small effects on adult brain and behavioral asymmetries are beginning to be identified through studies of large datasets, but the core genetic mechanisms of lateralized human brain development remain unknown. Identifying subtly lateralized genetic networks in the brain will lead to a new understanding of how neuronal circuits on the left and right are differently fine-tuned to preferentially support particular cognitive and behavioral functions.
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