Individual differences in human brain structure, function, and behavior can be attributed to genetic variations, environmental exposures, and their interactions. Although genome-wide association studies have identified many genetic variants associated with brain imaging phenotypes, environmental exposures associated with these phenotypes remain largely unknown. Here, we propose that environmental neuroscience should pay more attention on exploring the associations between lifetime environmental exposures (exposome) and brain imaging phenotypes and identifying both cumulative environmental effects and their vulnerable age windows during the life course. Exposome-neuroimaging association studies face several challenges including the accurate measurement of the totality of environmental exposures varied in space and time, the highly correlated structure of the exposome, and the lack of standardized approaches for exposome-wide association studies. By agnostically scanning the effects of environmental exposures on brain imaging phenotypes and their interactions with genomic variations, exposome-neuroimaging association analyses will improve our understanding of causal factors associated with individual differences in brain structure and function as well as their relations with cognitive abilities and neuropsychiatric disorders.
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This work was partly supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (Grant No. 2018YFC1314301), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 82030053, 82072001, 82001797, 81971694, 81971599), and Tianjin Natural Science Foundation (19JCYBJC25100). Further support was received by GS from the Horizon 2020 funded ERC Advanced Grant ‘STRATIFY’ (Brain network-based stratification of reinforcement-related disorders) (695313), the National Institute of Health (NIH) (R01DA049238, A decentralized macro and micro gene-by-environment interaction analysis of substance use behavior and its brain biomarkers), the Human Brain Project (SGA3; 945539), the EC Horizon Europe Project ‘environMENTAL’ (101057429), the German Research Foundation (DFG) grant COPE (458317126), the Chinese National High-end Foreign Expert Recruitment Plan and the NSFC Research Award for International Senior Scientists 2021. We also thank Le Yu (Tsinghua University), Mingming Jia (Northeast Institute of Geography and Agroecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences), and Shiwei Li (PIESAT Information Technology Co., Ltd) for the guidance of satellite-based remote sensing data processing, Meichen Yu (Indiana University School of Medicine) for the discussion of data harmonization, and Mengge Liu (Tianjin Medical University) for the support of graphic presentation.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Liu, F., Xu, J., Guo, L. et al. Environmental neuroscience linking exposome to brain structure and function underlying cognition and behavior. Mol Psychiatry 28, 17–27 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-022-01669-6