The Functional Genetics of Handedness and Language Lateralization: Insights From Gene Ontology, Pathway and Disease Association Analyses

Front Psychol. 2017 Jul 6;8:1144. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01144. eCollection 2017.


Handedness and language lateralization are partially determined by genetic influences. It has been estimated that at least 40 (and potentially more) possibly interacting genes may influence the ontogenesis of hemispheric asymmetries. Recently, it has been suggested that analyzing the genetics of hemispheric asymmetries on the level of gene ontology sets, rather than at the level of individual genes, might be more informative for understanding the underlying functional cascades. Here, we performed gene ontology, pathway and disease association analyses on genes that have previously been associated with handedness and language lateralization. Significant gene ontology sets for handedness were anatomical structure development, pattern specification (especially asymmetry formation) and biological regulation. Pathway analysis highlighted the importance of the TGF-beta signaling pathway for handedness ontogenesis. Significant gene ontology sets for language lateralization were responses to different stimuli, nervous system development, transport, signaling, and biological regulation. Despite the fact that some authors assume that handedness and language lateralization share a common ontogenetic basis, gene ontology sets barely overlap between phenotypes. Compared to genes involved in handedness, which mostly contribute to structural development, genes involved in language lateralization rather contribute to activity-dependent cognitive processes. Disease association analysis revealed associations of genes involved in handedness with diseases affecting the whole body, while genes involved in language lateralization were specifically engaged in mental and neurological diseases. These findings further support the idea that handedness and language lateralization are ontogenetically independent, complex phenotypes.

Keywords: asymmetry; gene ontology; genetics; handedness; language lateralization; ontogenesis.