Oxford University Press (OUP), Cerebral Cortex, 9(29), p. 3828-3835, 2018
Abstract Individual differences in humans are driven by unique brain structural and functional profiles, presumably mediated in part through differential cortical gene expression. However, the relationships between cortical gene expression profiles and individual differences in large-scale neural network organization remain poorly understood. In this study, we aimed to investigate whether the magnitude of sequence alterations in regional cortical genes mapped onto brain areas with high degree of functional connectivity variability across individuals. First, human genetic expression data from the Allen Brain Atlas was used to identify protein-coding genes associated with cortical areas, which delineated the regional genetic signature of specific cortical areas based on sequence alteration profiles. Thereafter, we identified brain regions that manifested high degrees of individual variability by using test-retest functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging and graph-theory analyses in healthy subjects. We found that rates of genetic sequence alterations shared a distinct spatial topography with cortical regions exhibiting individualized (highly-variable) connectivity profiles. Interestingly, gene expression profiles of brain regions with highly individualized connectivity patterns and elevated number of sequence alterations are devoted to neuropeptide-signaling-pathways and chemical-synaptic-transmission. Our findings support that genetic sequence alterations may underlie important aspects of brain connectome individualities in humans. Significance Statement: The neurobiological underpinnings of our individuality as humans are still an unsolved question. Although the notion that genetic variation drives an individual’s brain organization has been previously postulated, specific links between neural connectivity and gene expression profiles have remained elusive. In this study, we identified the magnitude of population-based sequence alterations in discrete cortical regions and compared them to the brain topological distribution of functional connectivity variability across an independent human sample. We discovered that brain regions with high degree of connectional individuality are defined by increased rates of genetic sequence alterations; these findings specifically implicated genes involved in neuropeptide-signaling pathways and chemical-synaptic transmission. These observations support that genetic sequence alterations may underlie important aspects of the emergence of the brain individuality across humans.