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Transl Psychiatry. 2012 Jul 24;2:e143. doi: 10.1038/tp.2012.67.

Genetic variants affecting the neural processing of human facial expressions: evidence using a genome-wide functional imaging approach.

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  • 1Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.


Human faces present crucial visual information for social interaction. Specialized brain regions are involved in the perception of faces, with the fusiform face area (FFA) a key neuronal substrate. Face processing is genetically controlled, but by which specific genes is unknown. A genome-wide approach identified common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) associated with areas of increased brain activity in response to affective facial expressions, measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging. SNPs in 20 genetic regions were linked with neural responses to negative facial expressions in a Norwegian sample (n=246), which included patients with mental illness. Three genetic regions were linked with FFA activation in a further discovery experiment using positive facial expressions and involving many of the same individuals (n=284). Two of these three regions showed significant association with right FFA activation to negative facial expressions in an independent North American replication sample of healthy Caucasians (n=85, 3q26.31, P=0.004; 20p12.3, P=0.045). The activation patterns were particularly striking for the SNP in 3q26.31, which lies in a gene TMEM212; only the FFA was activated. The specialized function of this brain region suggests that TMEM212 could contribute to the innate architecture of face processing.

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