Mapping gene transcription and neurocognition across human neocortex

Nat Hum Behav. 2021 Sep;5(9):1240-1250. doi: 10.1038/s41562-021-01082-z. Epub 2021 Mar 25.


Regulation of gene expression drives protein interactions that govern synaptic wiring and neuronal activity. The resulting coordinated activity among neuronal populations supports complex psychological processes, yet how gene expression shapes cognition and emotion remains unknown. Here, we directly bridge the microscale and macroscale by mapping gene expression patterns to functional activation patterns across the cortical sheet. Applying unsupervised learning to the Allen Human Brain Atlas and Neurosynth databases, we identify a ventromedial-dorsolateral gradient of gene assemblies that separate affective and perceptual domains. This topographic molecular-psychological signature reflects the hierarchical organization of the neocortex, including systematic variations in cell type, myeloarchitecture, laminar differentiation and intrinsic network affiliation. In addition, this molecular-psychological signature strengthens over neurodevelopment and can be replicated in two independent repositories. Collectively, our results reveal spatially covarying transcriptomic and cognitive architectures, highlighting the influence that molecular mechanisms exert on psychological processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cognition
  • Gene Expression / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Neocortex / metabolism*
  • Neocortex / physiology*