13 May 2016

illustration of gene sequenceNew research published in Nature this week has identified 74 genetic variants associated with educational attainment, brain development and neuropsychiatric disorders. 

The huge international research collaboration included input from UniSA’s Sansom Institute, Centre for Population Health Research based at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. 

Centre Director, Professor Elina Hypponen says the research offers important insights into the biology of both complex neurological disorders and indicators for educational achievement. 

“Population health research of this nature requires us to analyse huge datasets and in this instance we have looked at data from 300,000 people globally to track genetic variants that may affect educational attainment,” Prof Hypponen says. 

“The study expands on previous genome-wide analysis of a sample of about 100,000 individuals and has increased our identification of significant single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from 3 to 74.” 

Prof Hypponen says the study is important in identifying not only more significant SNPs, but also in suggesting that that genomic regions regulating gene expression in the neural tissues of the fetal brain are important for educational attainment later in life. 

“These results clearly pointed to the biology of the developing brain,” Prof Hypponen says. 

“Educational attainment is a complex phenotype mainly determined by environmental factors. However, we know that genetic factors account for at least 20 per cent of the variation across individuals. This research has given us more clues on where to look for further insights into factors that may indicate not only educational attainment but also neural disorders and disease.” 

“For instance the research shows that there is an association between educational attainment variants and better cognitive performance and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and lower neuroticism. However, variants which were associated with better educational attainment were also associated with increased risk of bipolar disorder”. 

She says this valuable population health research helps to build a clearer picture of the biological pathways involved in neural development and will be an important platform for further research. 

The paper, Genome-wide association study identifies 74 loci associated with educational attainment  is now available online. 

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli mobile: +61 418 823 673 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au


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