Genes, Cells and Brain Areas of Intelligence

Front Hum Neurosci. 2019 Feb 15:13:44. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00044. eCollection 2019.


What is the neurobiological basis of human intelligence? The brains of some people seem to be more efficient than those of others. Understanding the biological foundations of these differences is of great interest to basic and applied neuroscience. Somehow, the secret must lie in the cells in our brain with which we think. However, at present, research into the neurobiology of intelligence is divided between two main strategies: brain imaging studies investigate macroscopic brain structure and function to identify brain areas involved in intelligence, while genetic associations studies aim to pinpoint genes and genetic loci associated with intelligence. Nothing is known about how properties of brain cells relate to intelligence. The emergence of transcriptomics and cellular neuroscience of intelligence might, however, provide a third strategy and bridge the gap between identified genes for intelligence and brain function and structure. Here, we discuss the latest developments in the search for the biological basis of intelligence. In particular, the recent availability of very large cohorts with hundreds of thousands of individuals have propelled exciting developments in the genetics of intelligence. Furthermore, we discuss the first studies that show that specific populations of brain cells associate with intelligence. Finally, we highlight how specific genes that have been identified generate cellular properties associated with intelligence and may ultimately explain structure and function of the brain areas involved. Thereby, the road is paved for a cellular understanding of intelligence, which will provide a conceptual scaffold for understanding how the constellation of identified genes benefit cellular functions that support intelligence.

Keywords: GWAS of gene expression; action potentials; dendrites; frontal cortex; intelligence; pyramidal cells; temporal cortex.

Publication types

  • Review