Healthy human brain of a young adult, captured using a special form of MRI scanning

Behaviour and brain function

Many conditions with a genetic link affect the brain or behaviour – including autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (manic depression). There are a wide range of disorders, however, that cause distinctive alterations in behaviour (including the examples below). Studies of people with these disorders can shed light on brain function.

Tourette syndrome WilliamsBeuren syndrome (Williams syndrome)
People with Tourette syndrome have characteristic, semi-involuntary tics such as sudden, rapid movements (eg blinking or sniffing) and verbal tics (eg shouting or swearing). Children with Williams–Beuren syndrome have a characteristic elfin-like face, and tend to have a degree of developmental delay and some learning disorders.
People seem unable to suppress unconscious thoughts or reflex-driven movement, possibly due to disrupted communication between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain. They frequently have a love of music and are polite and friendly by nature, often being overly trusting of strangers.
Recent research has shown that a gene called SLITRK1 involved in brain development is disrupted in a small number of cases. Recent research suggests the syndrome is caused by loss of a chunk of chromosome 7, which typically removes 28 genes.


Lead image:

The healthy human brain of a young adult, visualised using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Alfred Anwander, MPI-CBS/Wellcome Images


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Thinking’ in September 2006 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Genetics and genomics, Neuroscience, Psychology, Health, infection and disease
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development