Epigenetic variance in dopamine D2 receptor: a marker of IQ malleability?

Transl Psychiatry. 2018 Aug 30;8(1):169. doi: 10.1038/s41398-018-0222-7.


Genetic and environmental factors both contribute to cognitive test performance. A substantial increase in average intelligence test results in the second half of the previous century within one generation is unlikely to be explained by genetic changes. One possible explanation for the strong malleability of cognitive performance measure is that environmental factors modify gene expression via epigenetic mechanisms. Epigenetic factors may help to understand the recent observations of an association between dopamine-dependent encoding of reward prediction errors and cognitive capacity, which was modulated by adverse life events. The possible manifestation of malleable biomarkers contributing to variance in cognitive test performance, and thus possibly contributing to the "missing heritability" between estimates from twin studies and variance explained by genetic markers, is still unclear. Here we show in 1475 healthy adolescents from the IMaging and GENetics (IMAGEN) sample that general IQ (gIQ) is associated with (1) polygenic scores for intelligence, (2) epigenetic modification of DRD2 gene, (3) gray matter density in striatum, and (4) functional striatal activation elicited by temporarily surprising reward-predicting cues. Comparing the relative importance for the prediction of gIQ in an overlapping subsample, our results demonstrate neurobiological correlates of the malleability of gIQ and point to equal importance of genetic variance, epigenetic modification of DRD2 receptor gene, as well as functional striatal activation, known to influence dopamine neurotransmission. Peripheral epigenetic markers are in need of confirmation in the central nervous system and should be tested in longitudinal settings specifically assessing individual and environmental factors that modify epigenetic structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Corpus Striatum / anatomy & histology*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / genetics*
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / genetics*


  • DRD2 protein, human
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Dopamine