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Trends Cogn Sci. 2000 Aug;4(8):309-318.

Imprinted genes, cognition and behaviour.

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Neurobiology and Developmental Genetics Programmes, The Babraham Institute, Babraham, Cambridge, UK CB2 4AT.


The idea that genes can influence behavioural predispositions and their underlying psychological determinants is becoming increasingly tractable. In this article, recent findings are reviewed on a special type of inheritance, related to the transmission of traits via what have been termed 'imprinted' genes. In imprinted genes one allele is silenced according to its parental origin. This results in the inheritance of traits down the maternal or paternal line, in contrast to the more frequent mode of inheritance that is indifferent to the parental origin of the allele. Drawing on the advances made possible by combining the approaches of cognitive neuropsychology, behavioural neuroscience and contemporary molecular genetics, the detailed evidence for imprinted effects on behavioural and cognitive phenotypes is considered, focusing on findings from mental disorders, Turner's syndrome and experimental work in animal models. As prevailing evolutionary theories stress an essential antagonistic role of imprinted effects, these data might link such apparently diverse issues as neurodevelopment and the vulnerability to mental disease with the 'battle of the sexes', as joined at the level of cognitive and behavioural functioning.

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