The association between scalp hair-whorl direction, handedness and hemispheric language dominance: is there a common genetic basis of lateralization?

Neuroimage. 2007 Apr 1;35(2):853-61. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.12.025. Epub 2006 Dec 29.


The hemispheres of the human brain are functionally asymmetric. The left hemisphere tends to be dominant for language and superior in the control of manual dexterity. The mechanisms underlying these asymmetries are not known. Genetic as well as environmental factors are discussed. Recently, atypical anticlockwise hair-whorl direction has been related to an increased probability for non-right-handedness and atypical hemispheric language dominance. These findings are fascinating and important since hair-whorl direction is a structural marker of lateralization and could provide a readily observable anatomical clue to functional brain lateralization. Based on data on handedness and hair-whorl direction, Amar Klar proposed a genetic model ("random-recessive model") in that a single gene with two alleles controls both handedness and hair-whorl orientation (Klar, A.J.S., 2003. Human handedness and scalp hair-whorl direction develop from a common genetic mechanism. Genetics 165, 269-276). The present study was designed to further investigate the relationship between scalp hair-whorl direction with handedness and hemispheric language dominance. 1212 subjects were investigated for scalp hair-whorl direction and handedness. Additionally, we determined hemispheric language dominance (as assessed by a word generation task) in a subgroup of 212 subjects using functional transcranial Doppler sonography (fTCD). As for the single attributes - hair-whorl direction, handedness, and language dominance - we reproduced previously published results. However, we found no association between hair-whorl direction and either language dominance or handedness. These results strongly argue against a common genetic basis of handedness or language lateralization with scalp hair-whorl direction. Inspection of hair patterns will not help us to determine language dominance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / genetics*
  • Hair / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Scalp
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Transcranial*