Left-right hemispheric asymmetry is an important aspect of healthy brain organization for many functions including language, and can be altered in cognitive and psychiatric disorders. No mechanism has yet been identified for establishing the human brain’s left-right axis. In this research line, we analyse magnetic resonance images to measure anatomical or functional asymmetries in the brain, and carry out genome-wide analyses to identify genetic variants that affect these asymmetries. We make use of the UK Biobank data for these studies, together with other datasets, which enables us to work with data from tens of thousands of people and achieve the largest ever studies of this question. Through this approach we have already found that genes which code for microtubule proteins, and are expressed especially highly in the embryonic brain, are involved in adult brain asymmetry. Microtubules form the internal skeleton of each cell, and inherent asymmetries of this skeleton may ultimately lead to left-right asymmetry of the brain. We also test whether genetic variants which affect brain asymmetry are associated with psychiatric disorders in other datasets. In addition, we have found evidence that some genes are differently active within the left and right sides of the developing human brain and spinal cord as early as four weeks post conception, using post mortem analysis. Our work on the genetics of brain asymmetry was featured in the Max Planck Forschung magazine (in German), and links with the Cognomics programme at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.

Example publications:

The genetic architecture of structural left-right asymmetry of the human brain

Left–Right Asymmetry of Maturation Rates in Human Embryonic Neural Development

Figure: Left-right asymmetry of the planum temporale region of the cerebral cortex in four individuals.



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