Researchers have identified more than 100 genes that can help them understand correlations between these genes and human brain activity during memory processing.
"This is very exciting because the identification of these gene-to-behaviour relationships opens up new research avenues for testing the role of these genes in specific aspects of memory function and dysfunction," said Genevieve Konopka of University of Texas Southwestern in the US.
"It means we are closer to understanding the molecular mechanisms supporting human memory and thus will be able to use this information someday to assist with all kinds of memory issues," Konopka added.
The genes identified as important for human memory are distinct from genes previously correlated with other types of cognitive processing and resting state MRI activity.
"At this point, we cannot say whether the gene expression itself might drive memory or whether it is simply a reflection of the brain activity patterns needed for proper memory formation," Konopka said.
In the study, presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) annual conference in San Francisco, the memory genes were found to overlap with several genes associated with autism, which means "we have identified a window into the molecular pathways important for normal memory function that are at risk from a genetic perspective in autism", Konopka noted.
The study is part of the nascent but growing field of "imaging genetics," which aims to relate genetic variation to variation in brain anatomy and function.
"Probing the genes-brain relationship is likely to yield a rich understanding of the human cognitive and neural architecture, including insights into human uniqueness in the animal kingdom," said Evelina Fedorenko of Harvard Medical School.