The search for genetic variants that contribute to higher intelligence has been slow, perhaps unsurprisingly. After all, your brain is, arguably, the most complicated thing in the known universe. Here’s a big new paper that might mark a milestone in this research.
Common genetic variants associated with cognitive performance identified using the proxy-phenotype methodLots of senior big names, such as Plomin, Deary, Pinker, Chabris, and Conley, feature as co-authors.
We identify several common genetic variants associated with cognitive performance using a two-stage approach: we conduct a genome-wide association study of educational attainment to generate a set of candidates, and then we estimate the association of these variants with cognitive performance. In older Americans, we find that these variants are jointly associated with cognitive health. Bioinformatics analyses implicate a set of genes that is associated with a particular neurotransmitter pathway involved in synaptic plasticity, the main cellular mechanism for learning and memory. In addition to the substantive contribution, this work also serves to show a proxy-phenotype approach to discovering common genetic variants that is likely to be useful for many phenotypes of interest to social scientists (such as personality traits).
We identify common genetic variants associated with cognitive performance using a two-stage approach, which we call the proxy-phenotype method. First, we conduct a genome-wide association study of educational attainment in a large sample (n = 106,736), which produces a set of 69 education-associated SNPs. Second, using independent samples (n = 24,189), we measure the association of these education-associated SNPs with cognitive performance. Three SNPs (rs1487441, rs7923609, and rs2721173) are significantly associated with cognitive performance after correction for multiple hypothesis testing. In an independent sample of older Americans (n = 8,652), we also show that a polygenic score derived from the education-associated SNPs is associated with memory and absence of dementia. Convergent evidence from a set of bioinformatics analyses implicates four specific genes (KNCMA1, NRXN1, POU2F3, and SCRT). All of these genes are associated with a particular neurotransmitter pathway involved in synaptic plasticity, the main cellular mechanism for learning and memory.