Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2018

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Dr. Naomi Friedman

Second Advisor

Dr. Heidi Day

Third Advisor

Dr. Alison Vigers

Abstract

Executive functions (EFs) are a group of higher cognitive operations that direct lower-level processes to enable an individual to evaluate and carry out goal-directed behaviors. While EFs have been implicated in several complex cognitive abilities, there is one broad higher order construct that influences all EFs, common EF (cEF). While common EF is known to be heritable (i.e. under genetic influence), little is known about the underlying molecular mechanisms. Utilizing genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are an effective method for investigating the genetic basis of complex, polygenic traits, such as cEF, by identifying significantly associated SNPs and genes through a whole-genome search. In the present study, bioinformatic follow up was first conducted on a novel common EF GWAS, identifying several SNPs, genes, and biological pathways significantly associated with cEF. As several neurological traits and disorders are characterized by notable EF impairments, genetic correlations between cEF and neurological traits of interest were estimated using LD score regression to see what traits share genetic vulnerability with EF. We show that cEF is significantly associated with general psychopathology, multiple psychiatric behaviors and Alzheimer’s disease and theorize molecular mechanisms that result from this genetic overlap that offer possible treatment mechanisms.

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