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Genes For Intelligence

The search for specific genes associated with IQ is proceeding at a rapid pace with the completion of the Human Genome Project. While defects in single genes, such as the fragile X gene, can cause mental retardation, the heritability of general cognitive ability is most likely due to multiple genes of small effect (called quantitative trait loci, or QTLs) rather than a single gene of large effect. QTLs contribute additively and interchangeably to intelligence.

Genetic studies have identified QTLs associated with "g" on chromosomes 4 and 6. These studies involved both children with high "g" and children with average "g." QTLs on chromosome 6 have been identified and shown to be active in the regions of the brain involved in learning and memory. The gene identified is for insulin-like growth factor 2 receptor, or IGF2R, the exact function of which is still unknown. One allele (alternative form) of IGR2R was found to be present 30 percent of the time in two groups of children with high "g." This was twice the frequency of its occurrence in two groups of children with average "g," and these findings have been successfully replicated in other studies. QTLs associated with "g" have also been identified on chromosome 4. Future identification of QTLs will allow geneticists to begin to answer questions about IQ and development and gene-environment interaction directly, rather than relying on less specific family, adoption, and twin studies.

In summary, intelligence measurements ranging from specific cognitive abilities to "g" have a complex relationship. Genetic contributions are large, and heritability increases with age. Heritability remains high for verbal abilities during adulthood. Finally, the identification of QTLs associated with "g" and with specific cognitive abilities is just beginning.

Harry Wright

and Ruth Abramson


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Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 2Intelligence - Iq Tests, Environmental Effects On Intelligence, Expanded Concepts Of Intelligence, Family, Twin, And Adoption Studies