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Ciba Found Symp. 1991;162:251-67; discussion 267-81.

The inheritance of left-handedness.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University College London, UK.


Left-handedness occurs in about 8% of the human population. It runs in families and an adoption study suggests a genetic rather than an environmental origin; however, monozygotic twins show substantial discordance. The only genetic models that successfully explain the family and twin data are those of McManus and Annett, which share the feature of incorporating a random component reflecting the biological phenomenon of 'fluctuating asymmetry'. The models have each been modified to explain the greater incidence of left-handedness in males. The McManus model is more successful at explaining the maternal effect--left-handed mothers have more left-handed offspring than do left-handed fathers. Both models explain the association of handedness with cerebral language dominance. The models differ principally in their conception of the phenotypes of handedness: Annett proposes a unimodal continuum, McManus proposes two discrete categories of handedness. Finding the gene for handedness and hence for language dominance would unlock the neurobiology of language. Two ways of finding the gene for handedness are proposed: searching the pseudoautosomal region of the X chromosome or invoking a specific evolutionary model of lateralization in which the handedness gene has evolved from the situs gene then searching the human genome for homologues to the mouse situs gene.

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