Bridging psychology and genetics using large-scale spatial analysis of neuroimaging and neurogenetic data

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Understanding how microscopic molecules give rise to complex cognitive processes is a major goal of the biological sciences. The countless hypothetical molecule-cognition relationships necessitate discovery-based techniques to guide scientists toward the most productive lines of investigation. To this end, we present a novel discovery tool that uses spatial patterns of neural gene expression from the Allen Brain Institute (ABI) and large-scale functional neuroimaging meta-analyses from the Neurosynth framework to bridge neurogenetic and neuroimaging data. We quantified the spatial similarity between over 20,000 genes from the ABI and 48 psychological topics derived from lexical analysis of neuroimaging articles, producing a comprehensive set of gene/cognition mappings that we term the Neurosynth-gene atlas. We demonstrate the ability to independently replicate known gene/cognition associations (e.g., between dopamine and reward), and subsequently use it to identify a range of novel associations between individual molecules or genes and complex psychological phenomena such as reward, memory and emotion. Our results complement existing discovery-based methods such as GWAS, and provide a novel means of generating hypotheses about the neurogenetic substrates of complex cognitive functions.

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