Mapping genetic influences on the corticospinal motor system in humans.
Cheeran BJ., Ritter C., Rothwell JC., Siebner HR.
It is becoming increasingly clear that genetic variations account for a certain amount of variance in the acquisition and maintenance of different skills. Until now, several levels of genetic influences were examined, ranging from global heritability estimates down to the analysis of the contribution of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) and variable number tandem repeats. In humans, the corticospinal motor system is essential to the acquisition of fine manual motor skills which require a finely tuned coordination of activity in distal forelimb muscles. Here we review recent brain mapping studies that have begun to explore the influence of functional genetic variation as well as mutations on function and structure of the human corticospinal motor system, and also the clinical implications of these studies. Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the primary motor hand area revealed a modulatory role of the common val66met polymorphism in the BDNF gene on corticospinal plasticity. Diffusion-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging has been employed to pinpoint subtle structural changes in corticospinal motor projections in individuals carrying a mutation in genes associated with motor neuron degeneration. These studies underscore the potential of non-invasive brain mapping techniques to characterize the genetic influence on the human corticospinal motor system.