Background: Human skull and brain morphology are strongly influenced by genetic factors, and skull size and shape vary worldwide. However, the relationship between specific brain morphology and genetically-determined ancestry is largely unknown.
Methods: We used two independent data sets to characterize variation in skull and brain morphology among individuals of European ancestry. The first data set is a historical sample of 1,170 male skulls with 37 shape measurements drawn from 27 European populations. The second data set includes 626 North American individuals of European ancestry participating in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) with magnetic resonance imaging, height and weight, neurological diagnosis, and genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data.
Results: We found that both skull and brain morphological variation exhibit a population-genetic fingerprint among individuals of European ancestry. This fingerprint shows a Northwest to Southeast gradient, is independent of body size, and involves frontotemporal cortical regions.
Conclusion: Our findings are consistent with prior evidence for gene flow in Europe due to historical population movements and indicate that genetic background should be considered in studies seeking to identify genes involved in human cortical development and neuropsychiatric disease.
Copyright © 2011 S. Karger AG, Basel.