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BMC Neurosci. 2006 Feb 17;7:16.

Genomic regulation of natural variation in cortical and noncortical brain volume.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.



The relative growth of the neocortex parallels the emergence of complex cognitive functions across species. To determine the regions of the mammalian genome responsible for natural variations in cortical volume, we conducted a complex trait analysis using 34 strains of recombinant inbred (Rl) strains of mice (BXD), as well as their two parental strains (C57BL/6J and DBA/2J). We measured both neocortical volume and total brain volume in 155 coronally sectioned mouse brains that were Nissl stained and embedded in celloidin. After correction for shrinkage, the measured cortical and noncortical brain volumes were entered into a multiple regression analysis, which removed the effects of body size and age from the measurements. Marker regression and interval mapping were computed using WebQTL.


An ANOVA revealed that more than half of the variance of these regressed phenotypes is genetically determined. We then identified the regions of the genome regulating this heritability. We located genomic regions in which a linkage disequilibrium was present using WebQTL as both a mapping engine and genomic database. For neocortex, we found a genome-wide significant quantitative trait locus (QTL) on chromosome 11 (marker D11Mit19), as well as a suggestive QTL on chromosome 16 (marker D16Mit100). In contrast, for noncortex the effect of chromosome 11 was markedly reduced, and a significant QTL appeared on chromosome 19 (D19Mit22).


This classic pattern of double dissociation argues strongly for different genetic factors regulating relative cortical size, as opposed to brain volume more generally. It is likely, however, that the effects of proximal chromosome 11 extend beyond the neocortex strictly defined. An analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms in these regions indicated that ciliary neurotrophic factor (Cntf) is quite possibly the gene underlying the noncortical QTL. Evidence for a candidate gene modulating neocortical volume was much weaker, but Otx1 deserves further consideration.

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