Each person has unique brain anatomy, just like fingerprints, as shown by a study carried out by scientists from the University of Zurich (UZH). This distinctiveness is the outcome of a unique blend of genetic makeup and personal experiences.
Thinking about the uniqueness of fingerprints, the team of researchers who worked with Lutz Jancke, a professor of neuropsychology at the UZH, questioned if the same was possible with the brain and if it might be plausible to find out to whom a brain corresponds on the grounds of specific anatomical traits. In earlier research, Jancke had already shown that personal experiences and life events affect the brain’s anatomy.
For example, golfers, chess players, and musicians present specific properties in the brain areas they most frequently use for their specialized work. However, short-lived experiences can also affect the brain. For instance, when the right arm is kept motionless for a couple of weeks, the cerebral cortex is thinned in the regions of the brain that control the now-immobile limb.
The blend of genetic makeup and individual life experiences produce unique brain anatomy, like fingerprints
“We suspect that those [life] experiences that affect the brain interact with the genetic makeup so that, over the years, each person develops completely individual brain anatomy,” explains Jancke.
To explore their assumptions, Jancke and his colleagues surveyed the brains of approximately 200 healthy elderly individuals by using magnetic resonance imaging on three occasions over a two-year period. Over 450 brain anatomical features were screened, some of which were general, including total brain volume, cortex thickness, and volumes of white and grey matter.
For every one of the about 200 surveyed individuals, the scientists identified a unique blend of individual anatomical characteristics characteristic of the brain, so the precision of detection, even for very general anatomical features of the brain, was higher than 90%.
“With our study, we were able to confirm that the structure of people’s brains is very individual,” explains Lutz Jancke. The interplay of genetic and non-genetic influencing factors obviously impacts not only the brain’s performance but its anatomy, too.