Scientists claimed that for the first time they have identified the entire “networks” of intelligence-linked genes, by uncovering two clusters of genes linked to human intelligence.
Called M1 and M3, the researchers said, these so-called gene networks appear to influence cognitive function—which includes memory, attention, processing speed and reasoning.
These two networks, which each contain hundreds of genes, are likely to be under the control of master regulator switches, they added. The researchers are keen to identify these and explore whether it might be feasible to manipulate them. The research is at a very early stage, but the scientists ultimately want to see whether someone could use this knowledge of gene networks to boost cognitive function.
“We know that genetics plays a major role in intelligence but until now haven’t known which genes are relevant. This research highlights some of genes involved in human intelligence, and how they interact with each other,” said Michael Johnson of Imperial College London, lead author a report on the findings.
“What’s exciting about this is that the genes we have found are likely to share a common regulation, which means that potentially we can manipulate a whole set of genes whose activity is linked to human intelligence. Our research suggests that it might be possible to work with these genes to modify intelligence, but that is only a theoretical possibility” for now.
In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers looked at samples of human brain from patients who had undergone brain surgery for epilepsy. The investigators analyzed thousands of genes expressed, or activated, in the human brain. Next they combined these results with genetic information from healthy people who had undergone IQ tests and from people with neurological disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability.
They conducted various computational analyses and comparisons in order to identify the gene networks influencing healthy human cognitive abilities. They found that some of the same genes that influence human intelligence in healthy people were also the same genes that cause impaired cognitive ability and epilepsy when mutated.
“Traits such intelligence are governed by large groups of genes working together—like a football team made up of players in different positions,” Johnson said.
“We used computer analysis to identify the genes in the human brain that work together to influence our cognitive ability to make new memories or sensible decisions when faced with lots of complex information. We found that some of these genes overlap with those that cause severe childhood onset epilepsy or intellectual disability.
“This study shows how we can use large genomic datasets to uncover new pathways for human brain function in both health and disease. Eventually, we hope that this sort of analysis will provide new insights into better treatments for neurodevelopmental diseases such as epilepsy, and ameliorate or treat the cognitive impairments associated with these devastating diseases.”