Imaging genetics uses neuroimaging (‘brain scanning’) to examine the differences in brain activation between people with different versions of a gene, both to understand the interaction between cognition, behaviour and genetics; and to better understand mental distress and psychiatric illness.
Rams√∏y uses the example of a gene known as ’5-HTTLPR’, which codes for the serotonin transporter protein – involved in regulating the concentration of serotonin in the synapse (the ‘gap’ where neurons connect and communicate chemically).
People who hold different versions of this gene are known to show different levels of anxiety and respond differently to anxiety or fear provoking tasks.
Rams√∏y notes that the ’5-HTTLPR’ genotype can determine how the amygdala reacts to fearful and angry faces, suggesting how this differing anxiety response is supported by brain function.
Psychiatry is increasingly using this approach to identify the ‘endophenotypes‘ of disorders, in an attempt to get away from an understanding of mental illness based largely on self-reported symptoms.
The Science and Consciousness Review article is an excellent introduction to this field, and a forthcoming article in Biological Psychiatry gives a more in-depth treatment for those wanting extra detail