Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Theme 3: Plasticity and Memory

Genetic Epidemiology of Brain Traits and Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Donders-PLASTICITY-MEMORY-screen thema 3Understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying the way the brain functions in general and dysfunctions in disease is very complex. Reasons behind this include the clinical/functional heterogeneity of brain related diseases/traits and the fact that they show a complex etiology. This means that combinations of many common genetic variants with small effect sizes interacting with each other and with the environment are involved.

Our goal is to find genes involved in the variation of brain traits as well as for genes involved in the risk of complex neuropsychiatric diseases. In order to do this we combine a series of state-of-the-art approaches. First, we have a very strong network of collaborators. We make part of the core analysis group of the world's biggest brain imaging genetics consortium, the ENIGMA consortium ( Through this collaboration, we recently identified common genetic variation significantly associated with the variance of hippocampus and intracranial volumes.

We are currently working on indentifying the genes associated with multiple subcortical volumes in a sample of over 25,000 individuals all around the world. Second, and since the study of single genetic variants is not powerful enough in disease association studies, we apply alternative gene-finding methodology to profit from combined genetic effects. From this approach we have been able to detect an association of the SORL1 gene (a candidate gene for Alzheimer's disease) associated with hippocampal volume in healthy young adults.

We also detected the association between the Dopamine/Noradrenalin and Serotonin genetic pathways with symptom counts and behavioral traits associated with Attention Deficits Hyperactivity Disorder.

Name: Alejandro Arias Vásquez
Telephone: 024-3619635
Visiting address: Department of Psychiatry
Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre
Reinier Postlaan 10 / route 836
6525 GC Nijmegen
The Netherlands
Postal address: Department of Psychiatry
Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre
P.O. Box 9101 / 855
6500 HB Nijmegen
The Netherlands
Key grants and prizes
  • Horizon Breakthrough Grant
Key publications
  • Identification of common variants associated with human hippocampal and intracranial volumes. Nat Genet. 2012 Apr 15;44(5):552-61
  • Common variants at 12q14 and 12q24 are associated with hippocampal volume. Nat Genet. 2012 Apr 15;44(5):545-51
  • Schizophrenia risk gene ZNF804A does not influence macroscopic brain structure: an MRI study in 892 volunteers. Mol Psychiatry. 2012 Dec;17(12):1155-7
  • Association of the Alzheimer's gene SORL1 with hippocampal volume in young, healthy adults. Am J Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;168(10):1083-9
  • Current self-reported symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder are associated with total brain volume in healthy adults. PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31273

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Theme 3:
Plasticity and Memory

Research Group
Genetic Epidemiology of Brain Traits and Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Principal Investigator
Dr. A. Arias Vásquez

Group members
Janita Bralten
Marieke Klein
Martine Hoogman

Kevin Sharp