Cognitive ability

The study of genetic variants can help us understand the causes of differences in the cognitive functions of individuals that are determined by the environment but also have an important contribution from genetics.

Educational attainment appears to be genetically influenced and was the main subject of the first GWAS (genome-wide association study) applied to the social sciences that looked for which genes might be related to such cognitive ability.

Cognitive ability is fundamental to physical and mental well-being. Better cognitive function during youth is associated with a lower risk of psychiatric disorders and disease later in life. Conversely, there is evidence that some diseases can affect cognitive abilities in young people, thereby affecting their studies.

Based on a genome-wide association study of 260000 individuals of European ancestry, 176 markers associated with variability in cognitive performance were identified.

The SLC39A8 gene, which produces a zinc transporter ZIP8, responsible for the transport of elements such as zinc, manganese, iron or cadmium; or the POU3F2 gene, which produces a protein in the central nervous system that interferes with the production of neurons in mammals.

Number of observed variants

13.5 million variants

Number of loci analyzed in the study

176 loci


Lee J.J., Wedow R., et al. Gene discovery and polygenic prediction from a genome-wide association study of educational attainment in 1.1 million individuals. Nature Genetics, 23 Jul 2018, 50(8):1112-1121.

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