Nav: Home

Genes contribute to biological motion perception and its covariation with autistic traits

January 22, 2018

Humans can readily perceive and recognize the movements of a living creature, based solely on a few point-lights tracking the motion of the major joints. Such exquisite sensitivity to biological motion (BM) signals is essential to our survival and social interaction.

However, compromised visual BM processing has been observed in various genetic conditions including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a highly prevalent and heritable neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by devastating social deficits.

What are the sources underlying the individual differences in biological motion perception? What accounts for its covariation with autistic traits?

To answer these questions, Dr. JIANG Yi, Dr. WANG Ying and their colleagues from the State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have conducted a behavioral genetic study.

This study, appearing in the current issue of PNAS, has linked individual variation in two fundamental aspects of BM perception to genetic and environmental factors, respectively, and provided evidence for a common genetic basis for the heritable aspect of BM perception and autistic traits.

When encountering a visual BM stimulus, people can discern the motion pattern using two types of visual cues: the local motion of individual joints that conveys the kinematics (Fig. 1, Local BM cues), and the global configuration of the body that represents the skeletal structure (Fig. 1, Global BM cues).

In a series of experiments, more than 150 monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs analyzed point-light displays of BM based on local kinematics, global configuration, or BM information in general. Using the classical twin design, the heritability of the BM perception abilities could be estimated.

According to intraclass correlation and genetic modeling analyses, both genes and common environment contribute to BM perception but play different roles.

While genes can account for about 50% of the individual variation in the processing of local kinematics, the processing of global configuration is mainly shaped by common environmental factors.

Additional analyses revealed that participants with higher levels of autistic traits exhibited a decreased ability to process local BM with 75% of the covariation accounted for by genetic influences. This suggests that local BM processing shares a common genetic basis with autistic traits.

This study disentangles the genetic roots of the two major components underpinning BM perception, extending the theoretical account that BM perception is supported by two distinct neural mechanisms from a genetic perspective.

It also advances our understanding of the sources of the linkage between autistic symptoms and BM perception deficits.
-end-
This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Strategic Priority Research Program, the Key Research Program of Frontier Sciences, and the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

Related Genes Articles:

How status sticks to genes
Life at the bottom of the social ladder may have long-term health effects that even upward mobility can't undo, according to new research in monkeys.
Symphony of genes
One of the most exciting discoveries in genome research was that the last common ancestor of all multicellular animals already possessed an extremely complex genome.
New genes out of nothing
One key question in evolutionary biology is how novel genes arise and develop.
Good genes
A team of scientists from NAU, Arizona State University, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts and nine other institutions worldwide to study potential cancer suppression mechanisms in cetaceans, the mammalian group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.
How lifestyle affects our genes
In the past decade, knowledge of how lifestyle affects our genes, a research field called epigenetics, has grown exponentially.
Genes that regulate how much we dream
Sleep is known to allow animals to re-energize themselves and consolidate memories.
The genes are not to blame
Individualized dietary recommendations based on genetic information are currently a popular trend.
Timing is everything, to our genes
Salk scientists discover critical gene activity follows a biological clock, affecting diseases of the brain and body.
New genes on 'deteriorating' Y chromosome
Decoding Y chromosomes is difficult even with latest sequencing technologies.
Newly revealed autism-related genes include genes involved in cancer
Researchers in Italy have applied a computational technique that accounts for how genes interact, to find new networks of related genes that may be involved in autism spectrum disorder.
More Genes News and Genes Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.